COULEE DAM, Wash. — A fire destroyed six buses, a driver’s ed vehicle, tires and auxiliary equipment at the Grand Coulee Dam School District’s transportation department in mid-September.
Although police initially suspected arson, investigators later found that a short in one bus’ wiring caused the blaze.
“It was definitely the wiring for the sanders, but they aren’t sure if it was faulty or if it was accidentally hit by the driver on the way out of the bus, which is very easy to do,” said Transportation Supervisor George Davis.
The fire was discovered around 2:30 a.m. when a police officer on patrol noticed smoke and called the fire department.
“When the fire department got here, one bus was two-thirds engulfed in flames and the two buses on either side of it were starting to burn,” Davis said.
Firefighters who responded to the scene were able to isolate the blaze to the far end of the bus barn where it originated, preventing it from spreading to the rest of the structure.
As a result of the fire, Davis said the transportation department has made it mandatory for drivers to turn off the battery isolation switch in any vehicle that has one before leaving for the day. “That’s not a normal process, but that’s probably a knee-jerk reaction to having a fire,” he said.
Davis estimated the damage would total over $600,000. The district’s insurance policy will cover damage to the garage and the value of the ruined school buses. However, the Grand Coulee Star reported that the policy will cover actual value of the lost buses, not replacement value, meaning the district could come up short when faced with purchasing brand new buses. Davis estimated that the district could recover between $110,000 and $130,000 for the lost buses, compared to the more than $400,000 needed to replace the vehicles.
School districts in the area responded with offers of help following the fire, with nearby schools loaning buses for the district’s routes the following Monday. Some also sold used buses to Davis’ department for $1 apiece.
“The Lake Chelan School District sold us a very good bus that they were thinking about surplussing for $1,” Davis said. “Cashmere School District is selling us two 78-passenger Crowns that are in good shape for $1 each. Quincy School District is selling us a 66-passenger conventional for $1.”
Davis expressed his appreciation for this outpouring of generosity. “They came through for us,” he said. “They could have sold their buses surplus for anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000, and they sold them to us for $1. I don’t even know where to begin to say thank you for that.”