MCSD bus catches fire with 9 students aboard

A Muscogee County School District bus with nine students aboard caught fire Monday afternoon.

No injuries were reported, but the bus is a total loss, said MCSD Superintendent David Lewis.

In an email to Muscogee County School Board members Monday evening, Lewis said the passengers on Bus No. 545 at the time were Shaw High School students. The bus caught fire at the intersection of Monterrey Court and Carnoustie Lane, he said, in the Maple Ridge subdivision off Hancock Road in north Columbus.

“The driver reported hearing a ‘pop’ after dropping off some students,” Lewis said. “She noticed smoke coming from under the bus and immediately evacuated the bus. The Shaw principal contacted the parents of the students, and a replacement bus has safely transported the students home.”

Wednesday evening, Lewis emailed board members to correct his original report.

"The replacement bus picked up the students and transported them safely home before the school and parents could be notified,” he said.

911 was contacted and responded to the scene, Lewis said.

Although the bus is a spare bus, Lewis said, “transportation director Ray Hill has verified that the bus did pass the state inspection this past July and has only been in the shop for routine maintenance since then.”

Reports have been filed with the Columbus Police Department and the Georgia School Boards Association, Lewis said.

“All maintenance records for the bus have been secured for further investigation,” Lewis said.

Asked why a spare bus was being used, Lewis told the Ledger-Enquirer in an email Tuesday evening, “According to transportation director Ray Hill, the bus usually used for that route was in the shop for routine service.”

According to the Columbus Fire and Emergency Medical Services report, 911 was called at 3:55 p.m. Monday, the fire unit arrived at 4:04 p.m. and left the scene at 5:29 p.m. Two firefighters, one fire sergeant and one fire lieutenant responded, the report says.

The fire ignited in the “engine area, running area, wheel area” of the bus, the report says, but the cause and contributing factors are undetermined. The preliminary investigation, however, did rule out human factors, according to the report.

Deputy fire chief Greg Lang told the Ledger-Enquirer in a phone interview Wednesday that the fire was contained mostly in the engine area and spread partly to the passenger area. The bus was vacant when responders arrived, but it’s unclear when and how the driver and passengers escaped, he said.

No evidence shows that the cause of the fire is suspicious, so the on-duty fire investigator wasn’t called, Lang said. The estimated damage is $10,000, he said.

“When you get an engine compartment burned up that bad, it’s hard to pinpoint it,” Lang said. “Pretty much all the evidence is burned up.”

It will be up to MCSD and its insurance company to decide whether to pay experts to further investigate the incident and try to determine the cause, Lang said.

Lewis told the Ledger-Enquirer in an email Wednesday, “A report and claim have been filed with the Georgia School Boards Association Risk Management Fund. We will cooperate with them in any way possible.”