Mum Helen Clements and her two children have spoken of how they had to flee their burning car in the middle of the lion enclosure at a wildlife park.
The 43-year-old, daughter Charlie, 12, and son George, nine, were enjoying a trip to Longleat Safari Park in Wiltshire, when smoke started to emerge from their vehicle.
Helen hammered on the horn to attract the attention of the 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.
With the 12 animals just 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.”
She added: “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’. 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, who lives near Wotton-under-Edge and works in a village shop, added: “The kids were very shaken up and I could see the panic on their faces. They were scared.”
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 different story.
“Now I look back I think 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: “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 reopened to visitors.”