WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - A Wave Transit Bus caught fire around 6:30 Saturday evening. Emergency crews were able to put out the engulfed bus in a matter of minutes.
"It was like a burning inferno," said Nell Hunnicutt a witness. "When the explosion went off the flames engulfed the bus entirely and it was something incredible. I'll tell you, I've never seen anything like it."
The driver, Joyce Grady, saw smoke at first and stopped the bus. She was able to get her four passengers off the bus just seconds before fire engulfed the entire vehicle.
"She saved them," said Captain Dennis Payton. "She realized there was a problem and when she saw smoke she knew she had to act and she acted appropriately to get those passengers off and a safe distance from the bus. She did a great job."
Workers at the nearby Indochine restaurant spotted the smoke and flames from outside the front window across the street.
"When I saw that it was just a small fire in the front I went and got the fire extinguisher," said restaurant owner Niki Thompson. "I was going to open the hood and spray on it and then some of my customers and employees said no back off, it might blow up on you."
"Total flames engulfed it and the next thing you know it was just a shell - there was nothing left of it," said waitress Christina Cox.
Caroline Bland's first thought was to grab her phone.
"I handed someone my cell phone because I was still working to run over and film it and the whole parking lot was even filled with smoke, it was awful," said Bland.
Everyone who saw the inferno is thankful that no one was hurt.
"If she hadn't pulled off the road I'm sure it would have been a tragedy," said Payton. "There would have been some people hurt or maybe perished in that fire."
In response to the fire, all transit buses of a smiliar model were inspected. All of the vehicles passed the inspection and were returned to service.
Authorities are still investigating what caused the blaze.
Below is a statement the Wave Tranist Authority released:
On Saturday, May 09, 2009 a Wave Transit shuttle bus was involved in a fire that consumed th evehicle. The vehicle was a 2007 Goshen Coach body on a Chevrolet Duramax Diesel 5500 chassis. The vehicle had less than 50,000 miles and had been serviced within the past six weeks. There are currently no recalls or service bulletins involving this model vehicle. The authority has three 2006, three 2007 and two 2009 Goshen Coach/Chevrolet Duramax 5500 vehicles in our fleet.
In response to the fire, the authority ordered all similar model vehicles grounded and inspected. The inspection included a visual check of the engine compartment to identify fuel leaks, oil leaks onto electrical or exhaust components, wiring or electrical issues or any other defects that could pose the threat of fire. Each vehicle passed the inspection and all vehicles were returned to service. We are working with the OEM and aftermarket manufacturers to determine the cause of the fire.
The safety of our passengers and employees is our number one priority. We are confident that the incident was isolated and travel by public transportation remains one of the safest forms of travel. "The actions of our dispatcher, maintenance staff and especially our bus operator are the reason that the incident resulted in no injuries," stated Wave Transit Director Albert Eby. "This incident demonstrated that our employees are well trained and our emergency response is performing as intended."
Once the cause of the fire is determined, the authority will make the required modifications to our fleet if necessary.