UPDATE: School Bus Carrying 50 Students Destroyed by Fire, No Word on Cause

Courtesy: Jessi VanHoose
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UPDATE 5/21/15
LAWRENCE COUNTY, Ky. (WSAZ) -- A cause has still not been determined in a school bus fire in Lawrence County, Kentucky.

The fire happened on US 23 in the McClure's Branch area last Friday.

There were more than 50 people on the bus, including k-12 students.

When the bus driver saw smoke coming from the back of the bus, where the engine is, he pulled over and evacuated the bus.

The bus was destroyed.

Superintendent of Lawrence County Schools, Dr. Bobbie Fletcher, tells WSAZ the Kentucky Department of Education came Monday. They went through past bus inspection records.

Dr. Fletcher says according to the preliminary investigation, there is not anything conclusive about how the bus fire started, but it is believed to be mechanical.

Dr. Fletcher tells WSAZ there were two other buses of the same make and model in their fleet. He says following the fire, they took them off the road and inspected them to make sure they were okay.

They are looking for a new bus to replace the one that caught fire.

Dr. Fletcher says they have training sessions coming up and will use the fire as a teaching tool, to make sure drivers know what they need to do and how to handle it.

School officials are still waiting on a final report from investigators.

UPDATE 5/15/15 @ 6:22 p.m.
LAWRENCE COUNTY, Ky. (WSAZ) -- A frightening school bus fire in Lawrence County, Kentucky put more than 50 lives in danger.

Thankfully everyone got out.

It happened on U.S. 23 in the McClure's Branch area.

Students said the fire spread in minutes and they had less than that to escape.

School leaders are praising all involved as their quick action very likely saved the lives of everyone on the burning bus.

Christopher Loughery never dreamed he'd have to escape a burning bus, but now he's living to talk about it.

"We knew what to do, they got off that bus, they were hightailing it basically," he said.

He was one of more than 50 people on a Lawrence County school bus as it caught fire on the way to school Friday.

He said they first noticed smoke coming from near the engine.

"We open the windows and next thing you know, we're almost to the top of the hill and we start seeing the flames coming out of the engine," Loughery said.

On board: two bus monitors, a driver and about 50 students from K through 12.

Loughery said all of them forced their way out of the front and side entrance: a fight for their lives.

"When we called 911, you could see the flames coming back through the motor," said Superintendent Robbie Fletcher.

Fletcher helped the students to safety, hiding them behind a hill.

He's now looking for the fire's cause.

The district has called in the Kentucky Department of Education to independently investigate.

"We want to find out what's the cause and if we can do anything to prevent anything like this, that we do, I've been in education 20 years and this is the first time I've seen something like this happen," Fletcher said.

Just last January, the district requested an audit by that very state department.

Documents show they not only passed, but their fleet was commended for an exemplary job.

Fletcher said their bus drivers do daily inspections, looking at the engine, entryways, brakes and many other components.

Once a month, mechanics do an even more thorough check of the buses.

The last check for the now charred bus was April 15, according to school officials.

They also said it passed.

It's tough to find much consolation for those on the bus.

"Even after, they were still crying, we were like just don't look at that old bus, it's gone now, just be proud that you still have your lives," said Loughery, who helped young children off the bus.

But people who were there, said everyone on board is a hero.

School leaders said the bus was considered "out of depreciation" by the state's recent audit.

However, they said that only means it's no longer eligible for maintenance funding.

They said those buses are still well-maintained, safe and reliable.

Keep clicking on WSAZ Mobile and WSAZ.com for more on this story.

ORIGINAL STORY 5/15/15 @ 8:02 a.m.
LAWRENCE COUNTY, Ky. (WSAZ) -- A school bus was destroyed Friday morning after it caught fire.

The fire happened about 7:30 a.m. on US 23 near McClure's Branch.

Robbie Fletcher, superintendent of Lawrence County Schools, says there were 50 students on the bus, ranging in age from kindergarten to high school students.

Fletcher says the back end of the bus, where the engine in, was smoking, so the driver pulled over.

The bus monitor, driver and the high school kids got all the younger students off the bus and took them to a hill on a nearby road to keep them safe.

Fletcher says when the bus driver opened the back end, it was on fire. The driver and a couple of passing drivers used an extinguisher to try to put the fire out.

According to Fletcher, they thought the fire was out when it sparked again and swept through the bus like a "brush fire."

No one was injured.

The bus was destroyed.

Fletcher tells WSAZ principals are calling the parents of all of the students who were on the bus.

He tells WSAZ he credits the driver, monitor and high school kids for getting the younger children off the bus safely.

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