Windows were busted and only a scorched shell remained of a Sarasota County school bus that caught on fire Wednesday afternoon.
Only two bus drivers were onboard when one of them started to smell something strange during their ride north on Interstate 75.
"They smelled the smoke and then they saw it coming up through the floorboards. That's when they pulled over to the side, exited the vehicle and called 911," said Nokomis Fire Chief Steve Kona.
Minutes later, the bus went up in flames, charring the inside and out and tying up traffic on the interstate for about an hour.
"The engine compartment was fully involved and it was getting into the passenger area of the school bus," Kona said.
Firefighters say the bus had just left the county's maintenance compound and was on it's way to Oak Park School. The bus was scheduled to stay parked until September. Then it was going to be used to transport the school's handicapped students.
"We have many of these buses. We have 40 or 50 of that year of buses, never had an incident with them," said Sarasota School's Department of Transportation Director Ellery Girard.
Girard is extremely concerned over the close call.
"We'll go through it with our certified mechanics with a fine tooth comb to find out what was the cause of the fire," he said.
While it's certainly the last thing parents want to see on the first week back to school, officials say bus drivers just completed extensive training on how to handle such a crisis.
"The time it took for the bus to go up, I think was enough time to evacuate a full bus," Girard said.
The Director of Transportation says once they determine what caused this fire, they'll be able to figure out if there are any potential risks with other buses in their fleet. They say if there is a mechanical issue that could be reoccurring in other buses, they'll pull those models off the roads and alert the state about the hazard.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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