A CRITICAL care patient was rescued from a private ambulance outside Newton Abbot just seconds before it was engulfed in flames earlier yesterday evening.
The 87-year-old woman – on her way to Torbay Hospital after being flown into Exeter from Holland – was grabbed from the vehicle by paramedics who had pulled in at the side of the A380 near the Ware Barton turn-off after the vehicle started to overheat.
The patient – thought to have been taken unwell during a cruise liner trip - was cared for by the side of the road while a replacement ambulance raced to the scene.
Her private ambulance, just two miles short of its destination, was destroyed in minutes as thick plumes of black smoke filled the blue sky.
Traffic heading towards Newton Abbot split itself into two columns on either side of the main road to allow three fire engines, two ambulances and a similar number of police cars to get to the scene quickly.
The alarm was raised just before 7pm with traffic nearest to the roadside inferno quickly backing up for fear of an explosion.
The ambulance crew comforted the patient on the central reservation for nearly half-an-hour before the replacement ambulance arrived.
An oxygen tank was recovered from the affected vehicle together with other medical kit before the flames took hold.
Fire crews had the blaze under control within minutes. A section of burning hedge was also extinguished.
One witness at the front of the traffic jam said: ’We all reversed our vehicles well away from the ambulance which just went up in a huge ball of flames. There was a worry that the whole thing could go. I heard something explode in the vehicle.’
He added: ’The paramedics and technicians were brilliant. They looked after their patient as best they could and still had the presence of mind to make sure none of the stopped traffic nearest their blazing vehicle was in danger. It was all very dramatic.’
Sightseers walked up from their parked vehicles to see the spectacle unfold while large crowds gathered to watch from the nearby over-bridge.
An ambulance crew on another emergency shout were able to get through the congestion to get their patient to Torbay Hospital without too much delay.
Police re-opened the road exactly an hour after the fire drama started.