The type of bus that caught fire twice in one month in Charlotte has been known for years to be at risk of engine fires, North Carolina bus experts say.
The N.C. Department of Public Instruction reminded all school districts to re-examine older buses with Caterpillar engines and Freightliner chassis for worn wiring and oil and fluid leaks. Two such buses from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools fleet burst into flames, one last week and one in October.
Despite a warning to all counties in May 2011, “DPI inspectors have still seen in some bus garages where they have not performed the repair to the valve cover wires as requested or needed additional repairs,” Friday’s notice said.
CMS has said about 3,000 buses similar to the ones that burned are in use in North Carolina, including 259 in CMS.
Meanwhile, the latest CMS investigation continues into this week. The district is trying to figure out what caused a Nov. 14 engine fire on Bus 188 as it was heading to Olympic High. CMS is scrutinizing the individual bus, reviewing video footage for any sign of tampering with the buses and making sure all mechanics and drivers are reminded about safety procedures, spokeswoman Renee McCoy said. The district also is pulling work orders and inspection reports on the 259 at-risk buses to check whether the safety measures recommended by the state were followed.
On Oct. 19, another Freightliner/Thomas Built bus with Caterpillar engine caught fire as it was taking students to South Mecklenburg High. Sixteen students were safely evacuated.
The state memo says 1998 to 2003 models – which includes both of the buses that caught fire – need to be checked for oil or fluid leaks, as well as potential damage to wiring harness wire ties that can let the alternator wire fall on a hot exhaust manifold, sparking fires.
“While performing 30 day inspections technicians should also pay close attention to the battery wire showing signs of rubbing/chaffing from a bolt that goes through the fire wall on the FS65 Freightliners,” the state memo says.