CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Officials are investigating and re-inspecting school buses here after two of the same models have caught fire in the past month.
The latest incident occurred on Tuesday, when a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) bus driver smelled smoke, stopped, and exited before the bus ignited, according to the district. No students were on board, and the school bus driver was not injured.
An investigator with the Charlotte Fire Department told local media that the fire appears to have started in the engine compartment and then spread into the bus, but it remains under investigation.
The school district identified the bus as a Freightliner FS-65 model. WSOC reported that a CMS bus that caught fire on Oct. 19 was also an FS-65. As previously reported, 16 students and the driver evacuated safely in that incident.
On Wednesday, CMS held a press conference in which district officials outlined a five-point plan in response to the school bus fires.
"We are unequivocally committed to doing everything possible to protect the safety and well-being of students, whether they be in the classroom, on the athletic field, in any CMS facility, involved in any CMS activity, or on a CMS school bus," said Tracy Russ, chief communications officer.
Carol Stamper, the school district’s chief operations officer, listed the steps that CMS is taking in response to the bus fires:
CMS has asked the bus manufacturer, senior inspectors from the North Carolina Department of Instruction’s transportation division, and fire inspectors from the city of Charlotte to conduct an independent investigation into the cause of the fire and to advise CMS of any possible widespread safety concerns.
2. Immediate Review
CMS will review its maintenance procedures, practices, and policies to protect the safety of passengers and staff, according to the district.
3. School Bus Inspections
CMS will re-inspect all of its school buses of this type as areas of concern are identified from the investigation. The district said it will then act as needed.
4. Criminal Investigation
School district and city police are investigating the incident, including a review of surveillance footage of the school bus lot.
5. Safety Drills
All CMS school bus drivers and staff will participate in bus emergency exit procedure drills.
"We want to assure families that CMS buses are safe, and we are doing everything in our power to keep them safe," Stamper added.
The school district said that it will release the findings of the current school bus fire investigation as soon as they are available.