A Carlisle couple whose car was engulfed in a ball of flames had their lives saved after two passing heroes alerted them to the fire as they drove.

Great-grandparents John and Isabel Brown, of Lowry Hill Road, reflected on an “incredibly lucky” escape from a blaze which destroyed their Ford Focus moments after they fled the vehicle.

John, 73, and 70-year-old Isabel were travelling south on the M6 towards Liverpool where she was due to attend an appointment at a city eye hospital. But just after leaving their home on Wednesday morning, John reported a problem with their car close to Penrith.

“With that there was a small explosion,” said Isabel. “Fortunately we were in the inside lane. He got onto the hard shoulder and we were just limping along in the car.”

Help was at hand, however, from passing Forestry Commission workers Alex Baines and Dan Pons.

“They flagged us down to stop completely,” said Isabel. “There was smoke coming out of the car and they shouted ‘You’ll have to get out of the car, you’re on fire.’ We hadn’t realised, so we got out of the car, climbed over the barrier, got as far away as possible and within minutes it was just a ball of flames.”

She collected a coat but John couldn’t retrieve his and their overnight belongings also went up in smoke. “The lads were really good, and lent John a jacket. He was shaking with cold and it was raining,” added Isabel, who said the emergency services and highways staff arrived on scene.

She said: “I’ve lost an antique locket which my great uncle, Alf, gave me many years ago. John’s lost his spectacles and a couple of coats, and our changes of clothing.

“We were just shaken. We couldn’t believe it, it was just surreal, you can’t explain it. You see it happening to other people. You never think it’s going to happen to you.

“We were absolutely fine. We hadn’t a scratch on us, not a scratch. If they hadn’t stopped us we might not have got out the car just quite as quick.

“We told the two lads ‘You’ve actually saved our lives’ because if we hadn’t have got out at that instant I think we would have probably got burned; that would have been the best of the scenarios – it could have been a lot worse.”

Isabel agreed the pair were “heroes”, adding: “They were absolutely fantastic; Good Samaritans, certainly. They were just so unassuming and helpful.”

John said the cause of the fire was still a mystery, adding: “If we hadn’t have got out I dread to think what would have happened a minute or two later.”

Alex and Dan work out of the Forestry Commission’s Peil Wyke base at Bassenthwaite. Alex, 24, a forest work supervisor from Great Clifton, recalled: “We managed to get them to safety. Literally two minutes after that the whole thing was in flames. Pretty shocking, really.

“I had said to Dan that we’d stop because if something like that happens to me I’d want someone to stop. It’s just what you do.”