A family have spoken of their horror escape from a burning car after their vehicle caught fire — in the middle of the LION enclosure at a wildlife park.
Helen Clements, 43, daughter Charlie, 12, and son George, nine, were enjoying an a trip to Longleat Safari Park in Wiltshire, when smoke started to emerge from their car.
Mum Helen frantically hammered on the horn to attract the attention of the park rangers but when flames started to appear from the bonnet she began to really panic.
Terrified George opened the door and leapt from the car – only for rangers who were herding back the predators to order him back into the burning vehicle which was fillign with smoke.
With the 12 animals just 100 yards away the family were forced to leap to safety when another ranger arrived in a jeep and parked up next to the flaming car.
Speaking of the dramatic Good Friday ordeal, Helen said: “Looking back at it we can laugh – I suppose you have to – but at the time it was terrifying.
“It was very busy in the park and it was stop-start traffic and thankfully we were stopped at the time.
“At first we thought it was steam rising from the bonnet and that it was just overheating but then we realised it was smoke.
“It was getting darker and darker and then it started to come into the car through the vents. That’s when we started to really panic. Then I saw the flames.
“I opened the windows and then George opened the sliding doors of the people carrier.
“We beeped the horn like it says you are supposed to do and we could see the ranger coming towards us.
“My son jumped out and he ran around outside but they were shouting ‘get back in the car’ but I was shouting back ‘we can’t it’s on fire!’
“We were filling up with more and more smoke and the flames were getting bigger. I’ve seen too many films I suppose so I was thinking about petrol tanks and explosions.
“All that was going through my mind was ‘We’ve got to get out of here as quickly as we can.”
The lions – who visitors said were captivated by the flames – were ushered into a night-time enclosure by rangers while a jeep pulled up next to the flaming Fiat.
Helen from Kingswood, Gloucestershire, who works in the village shop, added: “We just jumped into the vehicle.
“The kids were very shaken up and I could see the panic on their faces. They were scared.
“My son turned to me and said that it was ok though because he had remembered to pick up his teddy, but my daughter left her mobile phone on the dash board. You know teenagers and phones, she’s not very happy.”
With the family whisked off to the safety of the park office, the roads were cleared of cars so the fire service could extinguish the blaze.
“Luckily we didn’t think about the lions – I’m glad that wasn’t playing on our minds,” said Helen.
“The cars in front of us were kind of shielding us from them so we didn’t really see how close they were.
“If we had been just 50 yards further along it would have been a very different story.
“But now I look back I think ‘oh my goodness why did it happen in the lion enclosure’.
“Why not while we were at the penguins, or the flamingos or the camels. But no, it was the lions.”
The family’s five-year-old car has been completely destroyed by the blaze – but Helen said they are keen to return to the park as soon as they have a new set of wheels.
“We can’t fault them at all,” she said. “They were brilliant.”
A spokesman for the park said: “On Friday at around 1pm a car overheated in the first lion enclosure at Longleat Safari & Adventure Park.
“The occupants of the vehicle, a female and two children, were quickly picked up by rangers who transferred them in to their vehicle and the fire service was called.
“The car subsequently caught fire after the guests had been escorted out of their car.
“The lions were cleared from the enclosure and the safari park was closed. A route was cleared for the fire engine which arrived quickly and extinguished the fire.
“In total the safari park was closed for 15 minutes.
“No one was injured in any way and no lions were hurt.
“The vehicle has now been safely removed and the safari park has fully re-opened to visitors.”