Fire Destroys 8 School Buses
By Catherine Stortz Ripley
May 4, 2015

Eight Chillicothe R-2 school buses were destroyed by fire Sunday evening, with the total loss estimated at approximately $700,000. The cause of the fire was undetermined as of mid-morning Monday and was not considered suspicious in nature. It is likely that the fire began in the electrical system of the old building according to Fire Chief Darrell Wright.

The buses were parked alongside each other as usual in the school district's bus barn at 1011 Gilbert Street and were last used on Friday. The building provides enough cover to shelter the front ends of the buses.

C-T Photo / Catherine Stortz Ripley

Chillicothe firefighters were called to the scene at 9:43 p.m. and responded with two pumper trucks and the tower truck. "Upon arrival, we found an open sided building fully involved and the eight buses that were parked in the building were also involved," Wright said. Firefighters fought the blaze with hand lines and then with deluge nozzles on pumpers and the tower truck. There were several small explosions as the tires on the buses blew out, the chief stated. An investigator with the Missouri State Fire Marshal's office was on the scene, and, after his investigation, reported that the cause of the fire will be listed as undetermined at this time and not suspicious in nature. He was expected to return today to assess the scene in daylight. Video from a surveillance camera used at an adjoining business was reviewed and nothing indicated suspicious activity, the chief reported.

The Chillicothe Fire Department was on the scene for about five hours along with 16 firefighters. Several school district personnel and bus drivers were on the scene. "I got a call at 9:47 and got here as quick as I could, but it was all under way by the time I got here," said Superintendent Dr. Roger Barnes. Arrangements were being made to ensure transportation would go smoothly today. The district issued a textcaster message just before 11 p.m., stating that routes for buses 3 and 5 would be combined for morning transportation. These routes are the Wheeling area and south of Lowe's Acres.

The district has 24 buses and runs 15 routes. One bus was out of town at a school function, and another bus is used only by the building trades classes and does not have a stop sign, according to Terry Mammen, bus barn supervisor. The buses destroyed were Nos. 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 13 and 14. The district's newest bus, Bus No. 4, was purchased less than a year ago for $88,000.

Barnes stated that transportation went well today, and students arrived to school on time. He said the district will likely double up routes this afternoon but have extra buses for regular routes and extra-curricular activities on Tuesday. The girls high school soccer game, scheduled for St. Joseph this afternoon, was cancelled due to transportation conflicts. The middle school track meet, however, will go on as scheduled in Carrollton, thanks to the Trenton school district, which is providing a bus for that event. A couple schools have offered to loan the district buses for the short term, Barnes said. "We will be working with them and bus companies," he said.

The district has been in touch with its insurance company, and an agent was scheduled to be on site today. "We will be working with them, and when a settlement is reached, then we will determine whether we will lease or purchase new buses," Barnes said. Some of the buses involved in the fire are currently under lease, and some are fully paid for. The fire comes with less than three weeks remaining in the regular school year. "It's a very busy time with many buses going out," said Assistant Superintendent James Ruse.

A large crowd of people gathered in the parking lot area of Wal-Mart which overlooks the bus barn. And, many of the district's bus drivers stopped by after learning about the fire. "Many came in last night and witnessed the fire," Barnes said. "They all pretty much knew what was going on. They were shocked and surprised. But, they know we are going to work together to make the end of the year as good as possible."

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