Men leap from blazing inferno

editorial image

A man drove a burning van off a busy main road seconds before it turned into a fireball.

Driver Willie O’Keefe, 43, and his 53-year-old passenger Jim Rattenbury jumped from the blazing vehicle just before it became engulfed in flames.

Mr Rattenbury said: “We’re both lucky to be alive.

“Willie is the real hero. He kept driving the van until we got to the layby. We managed to get out just in time.”

Still shaking after the ordeal, Mr O’Keefe said: “By the time I got to the layby there was so much black smoke in the cab I could barely see and flames were coming from the dashboard.

“I just wanted to get the van off the main road. I couldn’t stop as we could have caused a bad accident.”

The ordeal started at about 9am yesterday after Mr O’Keefe, a volunteer driver with Corby charity Furniture Turnaround, picked up Mr Rattenbury up from his Weldon home.

At the A43 Weldon Road roundabout the pair smelled smoke and saw flames coming from the dashboard of the van.

Instead of stopping immediately, Mr O’Keefe, of Lodge Green Road, Corby, carried on driving to the nearest layby and pulled off the busy dual carriageway.

He said: “I wasn’t panicking. I wanted to find somewhere safe to stop. I knew there was a layby near the Anglian Water treatment works but I’d forgotten how far away it was from the roundabout.

“The second we stopped we both dived from the van and ran to safety. The whole vehicle went up in flames. I was shaking.”

As soon as they were out of danger they called the fire service and a crew was on the scene quickly and put out the blaze.

Another driver, Martin Davidson, stopped at the scene and directed traffic into the outside lane in Weldon Road, away from danger.

Mr Rattenbury, also a volunteer with the charity, said: “At first we thought the smell of smoke was coming from a car in front of us.

“Then it got worse and we saw the flames. We’re lucky to be here.”

Andy Spalding, manager of Furniture Turnaround, which sells on unwanted household items at cut down costs, said: “I’m relieved both Willie and Jim got out the van uninjured. It could have been so much worse.

“We had to move to new premises at Oakley Hay because of an asbestos alert at St Mark’s Business Centre and now one of our two vans has been destroyed. If anyone can help us out with temporary transport we would really appreciate it, but the most important thing is no-one was hurt in the fire.

“We’d like to thank Mr Davidson who directed the traffic after the van burst into flames

The cause of the fire is not yet known.