School system transportation departments in North Carolina were directed to perform special inspections following a Feb. 8 school bus fire in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
The state Department of Public Instruction’s (DPI) school transportation services section said that preliminary reviews and inspections of the bus that caught on fire point to the rubbing of the intake heater wire against the metal heater shutoff valve to the point that the wire covering was worn through, possibly causing a short and the subsequent fire.
School Transportation Services Section Chief Derek Graham said that he and his team were seeking clarification from Thomas Built Buses, but it appeared that the affected buses are most likely from shipments received between summer 1998 through 1999. The manufacturer was working on a more detailed report on the Feb. 8 bus fire.
DPI said that local transportation officials should inspect all of the school buses and activity buses in that date range for similar wiring issues. A memorandum and inspection message was sent last week to all school district transportation departments in the state.
Graham told SBF on Tuesday that most of what the districts found indicated some wear, without being worn all the way through to the core of the wire. He said that for any buses in which the wear was significant, the problem was corrected on the spot.
"We were very fortunate that the incident earlier this month did not result in any injuries to students or the bus driver," Graham said. "Only six students were on the bus, and the school bus driver reacted quickly and evacuated all students well before flames entered the passenger area. Now that we have more information about the likely cause of this fire, we want to use this information to be more diligent in preventing any other incidents."
Although initial reports indicated that the fire started in the switch panel to the left of the driver, further inspection pointed to worn wire coverings as a likely cause.