School bus catches fire on I-26

Firefighters and a S.C. Highway patrol officer leave the scene Friday along Interstate 26 near Interstate 526 in North Charleston where a school bus caught fire.

Driver on way to pick up students at Stall High

The engine compartment on a 1995 Thomas school bus caught fire Friday afternoon as it rolled down Interstate 26 westbound, but no students were onboard and the flames were quickly extinguished.

Last year, the state temporarily sidelined all 2,000 of its 1995 model buses because of a fire risk after a loose battery cable started a blaze that engulfed a Richland 2 school bus. An analysis by The Post and Courier for a March series "School Bus Breakdown" found entries for dozens of fires on 1995-model buses.

Authorities didn't immediately know Friday what caused the fire to erupt in the rear-mounted engine around 2 p.m. Driver Adline Daniels had just left the bus yard off Azalea Drive and was on her way to pick up students at Stall High School when another driver started blowing her horn, gesturing toward the rear of the bus and trying to yell at Daniels, "You're on fire."

"There was a loud boom. I thought I had a flat fire," Daniels said.

S.C. Department of Transportation Charleston Incident Responder Ted Wurthman was stopped on the shoulder of I-26 when the bus passed by him near Montague Avenue.

"Here it comes down the road, fire blasting out the back," Wurthman said. It looked like a rocket, he said.

Wurthman jumped in his SCDOT truck and went after the bus.

"I was running like a puppy trying to get a pork chop," he said with a grin.

Daniels pulled over just short of the eastbound entrance ramp to Interstate 526. North Charleston firefighters had the blaze out within four minutes. The bus was towed.

John Dozier, director of safety and information for the state Department of Education, said he had not been notified of the fire and therefore had no comment.

The newspaper's series exposed the decrepit condition of the state's school bus fleet and prompted a new state law that will eventually force the most dangerous buses out of service. Maintenance records show that the bus that caught fire Friday has been sidelined numerous times for mechanical problems, including twice for smoking.