Witnesses, district applaud school bus driver who got students off bus ahead of blaze

Witnesses, district applaud school bus driver who got students off bus ahead of blaze

BLYTHEWOOD, SC (WIS) - Witnesses said a quick-thinking school bus driver saved dozens of kindergarten students after their bus caught fire on the way to a field trip.

On Monday, Richland Two School District officials confirmed a state-owned bus caught fire in Blythewood after picking up 40 to 50 kindergarteners from Windsor Elementary School in Columbia Monday morning. The district said, as the driver was driving on Wilson Boulevard, she noticed smoke coming from underneath the hood and immediately pulled over into the parking lot of Scottie’s Café and Grill.

“I was standing outside with a manager talking and, all of a sudden, this smoking bus comes rolling in,” owner Scott Opolyn said. “As it smoked, the kids came out, the back doors opened up the kids got out, and they did a great job of getting the kids out.”

Opolyn said the children formed a line and were quickly and safely escorted to a neighboring parking lot a safe distance away from the bus. Moments later, he said the hood of the bus burst into flames.

“It was hot, it was cool yesterday morning,” Opolyn said. “We could feel the heat coming off. We were thinking about some hot dogs in the flames, but it was out before we could get the hot dogs.”

Firefighters arrived minutes later and extinguished the fire using foam, Opolyn said.

“You can smell it,” he said. “That was the rubber and the fiberglass coming off the bus.”

The Department of Education said it will investigate the fire and said the bus is a 2003 Freightliner, FS-65 type C, 62-passenger bus. A spokesperson said, “since the department retired all of the 1995/1996 buses from its fleet, specific, recurring mechanical issues on makes and models of school buses such as this one are increasingly rare.”

The department said all school buses receive comprehensive inspections five to seven times a year in addition to frequent inspections of tires, brakes, and other engine components. There are currently 160 buses identical to the one in this case in the statewide fleet.

The Richland Two School District said the bus driver has been employed since 1999 and did what she was supposed to do.

There were no injuries to students or chaperones riding the bus.

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