A White County school bus caught fire Monday while carrying 44 elementary students from a field trip in Murfreesboro.
No injuries were reported in the fire, which was reported about 2 p.m. along Highway 96 in Watertown near the town of Prosperity, according to the Tennessee Highway Patrol.
The students from Cassville Elementary were on their way back from the Discovery Center, according to David Vidrine, the district transportation director.
Vidrine said the engine started smoking, so the driver pulled over and got everyone off the bus safely. He said there were no previous related mechanical problems with the bus.
Another bus picked the students up and continued their trip back to the school.
Lt. Ray Robinson of the Tennessee Highway Patrol said the bus becoming engulfed so quickly is disturbing but not surprising.
"You're talking about a combination of fuels, diesel in this case, and oil," said Robinson. "You're talking about plastic, fiberglass and paint. They're going to burn quickly."
An investigation continues into how the bus caught fire, with officials determining that it started in the front of the vehicle.
"Certainly the age of any vehicle could play a role," said Robinson. "Do I think it was the causation of the fire? No, I don't."
Last month, the governor signed a law allowing school buses to be used for 18 years, up from 15 years, just as long as they have less than 200,000 miles and are inspected twice a year. The White County bus that burned wasn't as old as even the previous age limit, being a 2000 Blue Bird school bus.
Robinson said school buses are built from the same materials today as they were in 2000, with the exception that the newest models have flame retardant seats. He said in a fire this big, it wouldn't have made a difference.
Blue Bird Corporation had a recall of 3,900 buses in 2011 for a fire hazard. The bus that burned Monday is several years older than the ones in the recall.
According to the Tennessee Association of Pupil Transportation, there are currently more than 1,000 school buses in service in Tennessee that are more than 15 years old.
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