‘We were lucky’: rider’s safety warning after birds’ nests almost cause lorry fire

  • A rider has urged others to check their horseboxes for birds’ nests after her lorry came close to catching fire on the A3.

    Ruth Almond and her partner Sarah Dwyer-Coles were about five miles from home en route to Merrist Wood Equine Arena in Surrey last Friday (14 May) when they realised something was wrong.

    “We could smell something that wasn’t right,” Ruth told H&H.

    “We couldn’t work it out. We stopped, crawled under the lorry and couldn’t see anything. We carried on and got to the A3. There’s a bit of an uphill slog there and as we were about halfway up, smoke started filling the cab and the living.”

    Ruth said they were just passing a lay-by so managed to pull over and stop.

    “I pulled the fire extinguisher out but the cap and mechanism broke in my hands so it didn’t work,” she said. “I phoned the fire brigade and police, and my horsebox mechanic Barry Gray because I knew he wasn’t far away.

    “He arrived before the fire brigade and tilted the cab — I didn’t have the rods to tilt it with me — and we found a smouldering bird’s nest on the turbo.”

    Ruth said there was another bird’s nest on the radiator that had not caught fire. She believes the fact the turbo had to kick in to get up the hill produced more heat, making that nest catch.

    “Thankfully, the nest just smouldered and eventually went out,” she said. “Because we’d stopped, it stopped heating up, so the nest had stopped burning and, thank god, we managed to get it out.

    “The horse area hadn’t filled with smoke but I was really concerned about my gas bottle. I had no idea what to do as on that bit of the road, there’s a big bramble bush and a ditch; we’d have had to get the horse off on the A3.”

    This lorry did catch fire recently owing to birds’ nests in the engine. Picture by Barry Gray

    The lorry was undamaged and the pair were able to drive Sarah’s small tour dressage horse Casino Royale home that day.

    “We were so lucky,” Ruth said. “Barry showed us a picture of another lorry [pictured, above] that had the same thing and did catch fire. He’d checked ours only the other day and said to be aware of birds’ nests; that was six days before and I’d never have thought two nests would be built in that time.”

    Ruth also wanted to share the other safety principles she has learnt from the incident.

    “If you’ve got a tilt cab, and don’t have the rods to tilt it and the fire’s under the cab, you’re in trouble,” she said.

    Continues below…

    “I also normally have three dogs with me, although that day I’d left them at home; how would I have coped with three dogs, a horse and a lorry fire? There’s so much to learn from this; make sure your fire extinguishers work, little things like always have a bridle, even if you’re only going to the vet or something, so you’re not having to control a sharp competition horse on the road in a headcollar.

    “Things like that really shook me, and I’m going to sit down and think about what I need to carry on board.

    “There are lots of normal people like me who just get in the lorry, put the horse on and off you go but something like this could happen to anyone. The more people hear about this, the better, and let’s hope no one’s unfortunate enough for something like this to happen.”

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