Mother tells of rescue from Longleat lion enclosure

Driver Helen Clements talks about the moment her car caught fire: "Luckily we couldn't see the lions"

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A mother has told of her family's lucky escape after their car caught fire in the lion enclosure at a safari park.

Helen Clements and her two children were about 100 yards away from the lions when the vehicle overheated and started to smoke.

Rangers rescued the trio and no visitors or animals at Longleat Safari Park were injured.

Mrs Clements said: "It could have been in the flamingos or the camels but no, it had to be in the lion enclosure."

She had been on her first visit to the Wiltshire safari park with son George, nine, and 12-year-old daughter Charlie when the drama unfolded on Good Friday afternoon.

Despite the experience being "quite frightening" at the time, Mrs Clements, of Kingswood, Gloucestershire, said she could now see the funny side.

Helen Clements and her children Charlie (c) and George (r) Helen Clements, pictured with daughter Charlie and son George, praised the rangers for their help

She initially thought steam was rising from the car when it stopped inside the enclosure.

"Then basically, we thought: 'That's not steam, that's actually smoke'," she told BBC News.

"It was getting thicker and thicker and obviously coming into us, and then we saw flames."

She sounded her horn and both she and George opened their doors, before rangers came running towards them.

'Dilemma'

"Unfortunately they were shouting to us: 'Get back in the car, do not get out of the car'," she added.

"It was a situation of - what do you do? Do you get out of the car because you're on fire? And they're telling you to get back in the car, so that was the dilemma."

Her son got out of the car and ran but Mrs Clements called him back.

Within moments, a ranger had pulled up in a vehicle and she and the children jumped inside before being driven to safety.

Mrs Clements said the rangers had been "fantastic".

She and her children could not see the lions at the time as other cars were in front of them, she added.

"I can laugh about it now as it's only a car and we're all safe," said Mrs Clements. "You laugh at the funny side of it now.

"But of all the places - why the lion enclosure?"

Asked if she had any plans for other day trips over Easter, she joked: "I don't think anyone would want to come with us."

Car fire at Longleat The fire was put out after the lions were cleared from the enclosure
Lions at Longleat Eyewitness George Lear said the lions "didn’t take their eyes off the fire and smoke"
Car fire in the lion enclosure at Longleat Rangers had to move the lions out of the enclosure while the rescue took place

Kevin Ashley, from the safari park, said the lions were cleared from the enclosure and the park was closed.

He added that the fire was put out quickly and no animals had been harmed.

Visitor George Lear said: "The lions just kept their distance and didn't take their eyes off the fire and smoke.

"The rangers were pushing them back but they were reluctant on moving away as they looked interested."

He added that the air had been filled with black smoke after the car was engulfed by flames.

Also in the enclosure was Gabrielle Owen, from Newport, who said it could have been a "horrific story".

She praised the rangers, describing them as "incredibly fast at dealing with the incident".

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