A BURNLEY lorry driver leapt into his blazing truck and steered it away from a high street packed with Christmas shoppers.

Martin Ford has been hailed a hero for risking his life.

Seconds after he pulled the lorry into a quiet side street it was engulfed in flames.

Mr Ford, 36, was delivering £100,000 worth of furniture from Rosegrove-based PD Global to a store in Maidstone Kent when the blaze started.

Coun Rodd Nelson-Gracie, the Mayor of Maidstone, said Mr Ford was a hero for his actions.

He said: “The driver of the lorry has shown exceptional bravery. His quick thinking has averted what could have been a disaster for the town.

“We will be looking to recognise the man’s bravery in some way, he is a hero.”

Mr Ford jumped into the lorry cab after spotting the fire, believed to have been caused by an electrical fault, and drove the vehicle away from a narrow town centre street, which had been bustling with families.

Onlookers to the drama hailed the quick-thinking hero as "truly selfless".

Ollie Millen, 20, a labourer, said: "One minute the lorry was parked up on the street and the driver looked like he was unloading furniture.

"Then suddenly there was loads of smoke and hot red flames. It just seemed to start all at once. I couldn’t understand how it happened.

"I thought he was really brave to move it, it could have exploded.

“The fire engines arrived four minutes after it was driven out of the street to safety.

"The police arrived a little after and everyone was asked to stay back while the situation was sorted out."

Mr Ford, 36, a married father-of-one, has worked for PD Global for 10 years and was described by his bosses as their ‘best driver’.

General manager Ashleigh Pell, 60, said: "Martin realised straight away that the lorry was about to set fire to the shop he was delivering to.

“There were big awnings along the side of the shop. If he hadn’t moved it, it would have been a disastrous outcome.

"I can certainly understand why people are saying he’s a hero, jumping into a burning wagon isn’t something everyone would do.

"We are all extremely proud of him."