A DESPERATE man leapt into his flaming van and drove it off down the street to stop the fire spreading.

Jimmy Burns miraculously escaped unhurt despite climbing into the vehicle which was almost engulfed in flames and driving it off down Stornoway Road, Southend.

CCTV footage shows two people walking past the van and stopping behind the van - out of sight of the camera. They walk away just before the van erupts into flames before Mr Burns woke up to find the van ablaze.

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Mr Burns, who runs security firm Beewise in Sutton Road, said he woke up at around 3.45am on Sunday to find the van ablaze.

He said got in the van and drove it away - thinking that would be the best way to put the fire out.

Mr Burns, 39, said: “My wife woke up because she saw a big flash. She jumped up and looked out of the window and woke me up.

“It wasn’t just a little bit - the whole van was alight. I just ran outside and jumped in.

“I was driving it down the road and there were flames coming out the bumpers, all over it to be honest.

“You could feel the heat and there was thick smoke coming into the van. I think the flames were out by the time I got near the White Horse Pub on Southchurch Road.

“If it was going to get worse I would have pulled over on Southchurch Road and got out.”

His wife Mel Burns, 37, said: “I was so shocked. I didn’t know what was happening at first, our bedroom was lit up like it was day time so I woke up Jimmy and we went outside.

“I didn’t know he was going to drive off in it, I thought it was just about to blow up. But knowing Jim, it didn’t really surprise me – he thought that was the best way to blow the flames out and they did go out.”

Mr Burns, who escaped unhurt, said: “The fire brigade said I was lucky and told me I shouldn’t have done it.

“Thinking back about it maybe I shouldn’t have done it, but what do you do when something like that happens?

“If I’d have left it the whole van would have just gone up and it would have spread to other cars. I managed to save my van and other people’s cars.”

He added that he’s baffled as to why he was targeted but is hoping a public appeal can help catch the culprits.

He also said he is upgrading the CCTV and security lights near his home as a result of the incident.

Southend Standard: Scorched - the ground where the van was parked

A FIRE safety expert has condemned Mr Burns’ actions, saying it was the wrong thing to do in the situation.

Divisional Officer Neil Fenwick, from Essex County Fire and Rescue, said: “It is completely irresponsible to drive a vehicle which is on fire.

“No one should even consider getting into a van or car which is alight let alone starting the engine and driving it.

“When faced with a vehicle fire people should stay a safe distance away, dial 999 and wait for our properly trained and equipped crews to deal with the incident rather than endangering themselves and others like this.”

A police spokeswoman confirmed they were investigating the arson. She said: “Police are investigating a van fire which happened in Stornoway Road. The white Vauxhall Astra van was damaged.

“Anyone with information is asked to call Essex Police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.”