Family car catches fire in lion habitat

Helen Clements, with two young children, faces dilemma before rangers at England safari park hurry to the rescue

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A leisurely drive through a wild-animal park in England turned into a brief but harrowing ordeal when the vehicle driven by Helen Clements burst into flames, forcing her to decide whether to remain inside with her two children or step into the lion habitat.

The tense situation during Easter weekend at Longleat Safari & Adventure Park was videotaped by others, who watched in disbelief from their vehicles.

The lions were a mere 100 yards away.

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"We are in the lion enclosure, and there's a car on fire," Natalie Wiltshire, a park visitor, says in the ABC News video report.

Clements' vehicle had overheated and she initially mistook smoke as steam. But then she realized that it was smoke, and that's when the flames appeared in the front of the vehicle.

She was with her son George, 9, and daughter Charlie, 12, and the natural reaction was to escape the flames.

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"You're stuck and you can't control [the situation] and you can't do anything about it," Clements told ABC News.

She sounded her horn and then she and George opened their doors, and George tried to run off. But rangers arrived and cautioned them to get back in their van.

"It was a situation of, 'What do you do?'" Clements told BBC News. "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 rest happened quickly. A ranger pulled alongside the burning vehicle and Clements and her sons climbed in and were driven to safety.

Longleat Safari Park said in a statement that a rangers always have their eyes on the animals and were quick to respond to the situation.

Helen Clements could joke about the experience afterward.

“It could have been in the flamingos or the camels, but no, it had to be in the lion enclosure," she told BBC. "I can laugh about it now as it's only a car and we're all safe ... But of all the places, why the lion enclosure?"

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