OXFORD – SAD 17 Board of Directors were told Monday night that until the W.C. Cressey bus company of Kennebunk gives written assurance about the safety of a bus similar to one destroyed in a Sept. 3 fire, the bus will not be used.

“We have asked for written clearance from Cressey and they would not give it to us. We have pulled it (the bus),” Superintendent Mark Eastman said.

No cause has been found yet for the fire that destroyed a 2007 Thomas Built bus. The bus was one of seven picking up about 200 students around 4:30 p.m. from after-school activities when it erupted in flames. About 10 to 15 students were kept from loading the bus by driver Linda Berry of Oxford, who also warned the other six buses drivers and other students to evacuate the area as smoke began to seep out of the engine compartment.

Eastman told the directors Monday night that investigators from the North Carolina-based manufacturer, plus a specialist in these types of fires, will be at SAD 17 next week to begin their analysis of the destroyed school bus.

The second bus was pulled immediately from the fleet as a precaution after the manufacturer’s investigators confirmed that the same model in Newport caught fire in the middle of the night last December from an overheated engine component.

SAD 17’s bus 16, which burned up, recently had recall work done by the dealer, but it was not clear what that work was for.

The faulty component that destroyed the Newport bus was ruled out as a factor in the SAD 17 school bus fire, Eastman said last week.

Eastman also announced Monday night that a new bus has been ordered at a cost of about $70,000. The school’s insurance will pay for the estimated $43,000 to $46,000 replacement cost. Eastman said he successfully petitioned the state to subsidize the approximately $25,000 needed to make up the difference between insurance payment and the cost to replace the bus.

The Lakes Region School District has been loaning SAD 17 a bus and a second bus has been rented while the two buses are off line, he said.

School Board directors and others at the meeting were given a second-by-second review of the bus fire from surveillance cameras that were on at the time of the fire. From that video, school officials were able to determine that the first sign of smoke occurred about a minute after the bus arrived in the loop with six other buses. Flames were first discernible in the engine compartment four minutes later. It took seven to eight minutes for the flame to fully engulf the bus and 10 minutes from the point the smoke was seen for the Fire Department to arrive on scene.

“It’s scary,” said Eastman as gasps were heard from some watching the video.

Eastman said it appears it took six minutes and 29 seconds before the flames had moved into the bus where children would normally be seated.

At seven minutes and 36 seconds, police are on scene to secure the bus loop.

“There is no fire truck yet and it is fully involved,” said Eastman who noted that the first call to the fire department was to report steam and not smoke. Because of that, fire engines were not dispatched until the second call reporting smoke moments later, he said.

Eastman and Principal Ted Moccia, who was also on scene at the time of the fire, said despite initial efforts by the bus driver to douse the smoke using a five-pound fire extinguisher which is on all school buses, and several staff members who ran out with 20-pound fire extinguishers, it was impossible to get at the fire.

“They couldn’t get near it. The flames were too intense,” said Eastman. Moccia said he also told the staff to stay away. Two fire extinguishers appear on the video on the ground by the burning bus as everyone evacuated the area.

Eastman said he met with the bus drivers Monday. Berry was given a commendation for acting quickly and professionally to keep students safe, he said.

“This was a sad but important reminder to always be vigilant and prepared,” said Eastman.

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