Sunday, April 20, 2014

'Our Car's On Fire, Lions Are 100 Yards Away! So, Do We Get Out Or Do We Stay?'

'Our car's on fire but lions are 100 yards away. So, do we get out or do we stay?': Mother tells how family day out at Longleat turned into a life-or-death drama
  • Family abandoned car as it caught fire at Longleat Safari Park in Wiltshire
  • Fire occurred as they were driving through enclosure - home to 12 lions
  • Workers coaxed lions away from family who had to be picked up by ranger
  • Shocked onlookers watched as car erupted into ball of flames on Friday
Park was briefly closed to public while firefighters tackled the blazing 4x4
A family faced an appalling dilemma when their car burst into flames in the middle of Longleat safari park’s lion enclosure.

Helen Clements and her daughter, Charlie, 12, and son George, nine, were enjoying an Easter trip to the Wiltshire attraction.

Mrs Clements, 43, said: ‘Being Good Friday it was busy and we had to keep stopping and starting the car. Everything was fine until we got into the lion enclosure.

The car just stopped and started to overheat. What I thought was steam started coming from the bonnet then it got darker and turned into smoke through the vent and towards us.

‘I knew the lions were only 100 yards away and I just didn’t know what to do – should we get out of the car or should we stay? I sounded the horn and could see some park rangers but I kept an eye on the bonnet and then I saw the flames.’

Mrs Clements, who is an assistant in her village shop in Kingswood, Gloucestershire, continued: ‘The kids were panicking and there were a lot of tears.

‘George was in the back and opened the door and got out of the car but a ranger shouted, “Get back in.”

‘I shouted back that we can’t – it’s on fire – and opened the driver’s door and started to get out and at that moment the rangers pulled up and we all jumped in with them.

‘The rangers had to keep the lions out of the way. People who saw it happening said the lions knew something was happening and were intrigued but fortunately didn’t come too close. It all happened so quickly it’s difficult to recall exactly what happened, but the children soon calmed down and they’ve now got a wonderful story to tell all their school chums.

‘It could have been a lot worse. My daughter was mainly upset that she’d left her phone in the car.’

Fire crews from Warminster put out the flames within 15 minutes. Watch manager Chris Trimby said: ‘When we arrived the car was well alight.

‘Our main concern was being able to get to the car safely while inside a lion enclosure.’ A spokesman for Longleat said: ‘On Friday at around 1pm a car overheated in the first lion enclosure at Longleat Safari & Adventure Park.

‘The lions were cleared from the enclosure and the safari park was closed. No one was injured in any way and no lions were hurt.

‘The vehicle has been safely removed and the safari park has fully re-opened to visitors.’