Helen Clements and her two young children were caught in an impossible situation when their vehicle caught fire in a lion enclosure last Friday. According to ABC News, the family was driving through Longleat Safari Park when rangers urged the family to go back inside the flaming vehicle.
Located in the southern English county of Wiltshire, Longleat offers visitors a taste of faraway Africa. When the park opened its doors in 1966, it was the first drive-through safari park outside of Africa. Separated into different zones such as Flamingo Valley, Big Game Park, and Lion Country, the park holds over 500 animals across 9,000 acres. Longleat fans say it resembles more of a nature reserve than a zoo.
Visitors are able to drive themselves at their own leisure through the park, as Helen Clements did last week. Unfortunately, disaster struck at the worst possible time when the vehicle stopped and the mother could see steam rising from the hood. The steam quickly became smoke.
“It was getting thicker and thicker and obviously coming into us, and then we saw flames,” Clements told the BBC.
You can see a recording of the incident by a bystander below:
Clements began instructing her children out of the vehicle when park rangers, to her surprise, shouted for them to get back into the burning car.
“It was a situation of what do you do?” Clements recalled. “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.”
The rangers were insistent because the smoke caught the attention of the nearby lions, who seemed intent on moving closer to investigate. The family returned to the vehicle and seconds later, a park jeep pulled up alongside them. The Clements family jumped over to the second vehicle and was safely driven away while additional jeeps attempted to ward off the lions.
Thankfully, no people or animals were hurt in the event. Clements attributed the quick resolution of what could have been a dangerous situation to the efforts of the park rangers. While the mother of two is glad that her children are safe, she mused on the absurdity of her bad luck.
“Why couldn’t it be in the flamingos or the camels?” she said. “But no, it had to be in the lion enclosure.”
Longleat employees put out the fire after the lions were cleared from the area. The park was closed for a day following the incident.