A driver who got her passengers and horse out of her lorry minutes before it “went up in a fireball” on the A1 has warned other drivers to be aware of possible dangers.
Julie Lawson was on the way home from Burghley Horse Trials, with Primitive Faerie Tale who had taken part in the stallion parade, when her horsebox caught fire on 1 September.
“The driver next to me was pointing and waving but the wagon was driving normally and I couldn’t see anything wrong,” she told H&H.
“But the woman was really going for it, so I asked Harrison, one of four teenagers I teach who were with me, to put the camera on to the back, rather than the horse.
“I saw the flames and thought: ‘Oh s***. We’re on fire.”
Ms Lawson was on a bend of the dual carriageway, where there was no hard shoulder.
“There was nowhere to stop,” she said. “I thought the next lorry that comes along will wipe us out. I’m thinking: ‘Everything will be fine and I need to protect everyone’, and then the driver next to me shouted: ‘Stop your wagon!’ and I thought: ‘We’re not going to get out of this’.
“I bounced the 18-tonne wagon off the road – I didn’t realise there was quite such a step off the A1 – and threw it on the verge, with the passenger wheel in the ditch and the whole thing tilting over.
“That meant the flames were going straight up the ramp on the driver’s side.”
Having told the children with her to “get away and don’t come back for any reason”, Ms Lawson ran to the back of her lorry, which had a hydraulic ramp.
“I thought I wasn’t going to be able to get my horse out, it was the worst 30 seconds of my life,” she said.
“I couldn’t remember how to override it manually. I’d been shown when I bought it but I didn’t know how, didn’t know where the valve was – we’d never used it as it always worked.
“Fortunately, everything was on the passenger side; the hydraulics worked and the ramp came down.
“The horse area was full of smoke but he was just standing looking at me. The flames were coming between the ramp and the body of the lorry but he just walked through the smoke and flames like he did it every day.
“Then there we were, on the A1, with articulated lorries doing emergency stops, and the wagon went up like a fireball.”
Ms Lawson wants to thank the driver and passenger who alerted her to the fire, as “they were our guardian angels”, as well as the emergency services and Penny Hollings, who was on the road in a horsebox and who took her stallion home.
Her lorry and all its contents were destroyed.
Now Ms Lawson wants to warn others of potential travelling issues.
“It’s been a wake-up call,” she said.
“Make sure you know how things work. How many people with hydraulic ramps don’t know how to over-ride them? You need to know you can get your horse out.
“And insurance – apparently you don’t get contents cover in wagons, so although I’ve claimed for my handbag and phone from my household insurance, which has been great, none of the tack or anything was covered.
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“Plus gas – ours exploded like you wouldn’t believe and I’d had no idea how much we had – and even fire extinguishers, do you know where it is and what sort of fire to use it on?
“It’s definitely made me think. We’ve just lost possessions, we’ll live without them. But although I’d have done my damnedest to get my boy out, I don’t think I’d have been able to keep on eventing if I’d watched my favourite stallion burn to death on the side of the A1 – and it was that close.”