Fire investigators in Puyallup, Washington, determined that a machine spark caused a fire in August that destroyed 20 school buses and damaged six others. Still, the district completed the cleanup and had enough donated buses on hand for students by the start of the school year.
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Mario Casello, the chief operations officer for Puyallup School District about 10 miles south of Tacoma, said a piece of equipment being used at a maintenance shop on Aug. 24 emitted the spark that ignited a piece of cardboard. The school buses were parked next to the garage, which also housed a paint shop. A stack of bus tires sat nearby.
Making matters worse, Casello said the temperature that day was 90 degrees. The flames exploded out of control and ignited a wood carport that sheltered the buses.
“The buses were just lined up,” Casello recalled. “It was a trickle-down effect. One caught on fire and then the next. It was absolutely crazy.”
Casello said the district remains grateful that no one was hurt, as about 70 employees were safely evacuated from the area. But he added that it was also “unbelievable” to see the districts from across the state offer the use of their spare buses to make sure students were not without rides to and from class, which started on Sept. 6.
“The positive out of this whole thing was, yeah, to see people’s responses and the support from local districts, from districts throughout the entire state of Washington,” he explained. “We had 13 districts offer up buses to us, which was unbelievable. We ended up borrowing buses from a number of districts, which has been a huge help. We are still utilizing some of those buses.”
He said local businesses and other organizations such as the power company also assisted the district with cleanup at the garage over a 12-day period. Still, the garage and carport need to be rebuilt, and Casello said the district is working with architects on those plans.
Meanwhile, Casello said Puyallup to work with its risk pool and insurance company to replace the destroyed 20 buses, and the new order should be arriving soon. The six damaged buses were salvaged at a local repair shop.
“Having insurance is huge,” Casello added.