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Bus fire probe centers on fuel system

May 24, 2007|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. - An investigation to determine what caused a fire on a Jefferson County Schools bus Tuesday continues to focus on the vehicle's fuel system, the coordinator of the school system's transportation department said Wednesday.

A preliminary examination of the bus suggests the failure of an engine component around a fuel line or fuel injector might have started the fire, said Robert Boylan, coordinator of transportation for Jefferson County Schools.

The failure of the component might have caused a fuel leak, Boylan said.

The fire started in the engine compartment then reached the cab, said Ed Smith, chief of Independent Fire Co.

When flames reached the cab, the fire was able to burn faster and it became a "very, very hot" fire, Smith said.

Fire crews received the call at 8:44 a.m. and arrived in 12 minutes, Smith said.

The area of the engine where fuel injectors are is among areas on a bus that drivers must inspect each day before starting their routes to make sure there are no mechanical problems, Boylan said.

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Bus driver Billie Jo Elliott checked that area of her bus Tuesday but nothing appeared to be wrong, Boylan said.

"It's just one of those things that usually does not happen," Boylan said.

Boylan emphasized that an engine component failure was only a possible cause and that his department will complete a full investigation.

School officials said previously that the state Department of Education will perform an investigation into the cause of the fire.

Elliott turned on to Daniel Road from Flowing Springs Road early Tuesday with 54 T.A. Lowery Elementary School students when she noticed smoke trailing the bus.

Elliott began evacuating students from the bus, and some students said they breathed smoke as the incident unfolded.

One student said he saw flames rising into the cabin of the bus where he had been sitting.

The students were taken to T.A. Lowery Elementary, where a triage operation was set up. They were then taken to Jefferson Memorial Hospital. All students were checked at the hospital and released, officials said.

A replacement bus for Elliott's route was used Wednesday and another driver handled the driving as Elliott sat at the front of the bus and talked to students about Tuesday's incident, Boylan said.

Elliott was praised for her quick thinking to get the students off the bus.

Boylan said one reason the evacuation went well is because Elliott is a stickler for bus safety.

Although all bus drivers are required to conduct two evacuation drills a year, Elliott conducts them once a month, Boylan said.

It is hoped the school system's insurance will cover part of the replacement costs for the bus, Boylan said.

School buses cost upwards of $100,000 and the school system plans to buy one to replace the one burned Tuesday, Boylan said.

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