Wake County school bus fire prompts inspection, replacement program

Investigators

WAKE COUNTY, N.C. (WNCN) – A school bus fire earlier this week in Holly Springs has triggered an inspection and replacement program for a number of school buses operated by Wake County.

The Wake County school district has over 800 school buses and 48 of them are the same make and model as the one that caught fire on Monday outside of Holly Springs High School.

As a result of that fire, the district is now replacing wires in the engine compartments of some of those buses.

Bus 309 was the one which burned.

It’s a 12-year-old international brand bus.

WCPSS says it was taken out of service in Feb. 2018 to have its engine replaced by a 3rd party vendor and went back into service 10 months later. 

Consumer investigator Steve Sbraccia requested maintenance records for bus 309.

He looked at the 30-day inspection reports for that bus going back one year. Those inspections are mandated by the state.

He also looked at work orders for repairs dating back to 2018 for that same school bus.

The monthly inspections show back in February of 2018, before the bus was taken out of service, mechanics had to zip tie (or bundle together) “multiple loose wires around the engine compartment.”

Then, back on Oct. 1, records indicate mechanics “replaced body solenoids and one terminal due to a bare wire.”

Two months later, a fire broke out in the engine compartment of bus 309.

A preliminary investigation by Wake County Schools found:

  • The fire could have been caused by a worn spot on a wire near the replaced engine. 
  • Wake County has 48 buses in its fleet which are this same make and model as the bus that burned.
  • 20 of those 48 buses contain replaced engines. 

School system spokeswoman Lisa Luten says the county feared there might be a problem with those 20 buses so, it began inspections “and started installing protective coverings on the wires leading to the alternator.”

Luten says all inspections and replacements should be completed by Saturday.

In addition, Wake County Schools has asked an outside firm to conduct an investigation into the cause of the fire on bus 309.

The federal government says every day one to two school buses catch fire somewhere in the United States.

CBS 17 reached out to other school districts in our area to see if they are concerned with worn wiring on the same model school buses that caused the fire in Wake County on bus 309.

We’ve checked with both Cumberland County and Durham Public Schools, which run extensive bus fleets, but have yet to get a response to our inquiry.

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