Mar 14, 2017 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff WriterSprinklers at upgraded facility saved fleet damage
Firefighters were called to a fire Monday night at 701 East Sunset Drive night when a full-sized school bus caught fire inside the Riverton school district's bus garage.
Fremont County School District 25 superintendent Terry Snyder said the Riverton Police Department contacted school officials when the fire alarm went off at the garage, which houses much of the district's bus fleet.
"The building was engulfed in smoke," Snyder said. "The fire completely gutted the one bus."
Riverton Volunteer Fire Department chief Cory Higgs said an initial examination of the bus Monday night indicated an electrical fire that started at the rear of the bus where the engine is located.
Firefighters were dispatched at about 7:55 p.m. It took 20 firefighters and four fire trucks to extinguish the fire over the course of two and a half hours.
Higgs said it took a while for firefighters to find the location of the fire at first because the building is large. After locating it they quickly opened the garage doors to ventilate the building. They also drove the other buses out of the garage.
The building had 16 buses parked inside, only inches away from each other.
The automatic sprinkler system activated and saved the other buses.
Transportation supervisor for the district, Mike Forget, said the four sprinklers located directly above the burning bus contained the fire and prevented it from spreading.
"Thank goodness for our sprinkler system," Forget said.
Snyder said the sprinkler system was installed two years ago when the facility was enlarged and remodeled. The building was brought up to fire code as well.
"The building didn't have a sprinkler system for decades," Snyder said. "The sprinklers saved over $5 million worth of structure and equipment."
The buses alone are worth about $3.6 million. The district owns 30 buses, most are valued at about $120,000. Each is equipped with a 100-gallon tank for fuel. The burned bus was a Blue Bird diesel model.
Eric Siwik, Riverton fire investigator for the Wyoming Department of Fire Prevention and Electrical Safety, said a full investigation of the incident will start with a process of elimination in order to find the precise origin of the fire.
At first look, he agreed that the fire seemed to have quickly traveled up to the cab area after starting in the rear. A thorough exam to find the specific cause, however, will help in inspecting the rest of the fleet to help ensure against future fires, Siwik said.
"It was pretty phenomenal what was able to be contained," Snyder said. "There's a lot of cleanup that we have to do, but that's manageable compared to what happened last night."
Tuesday morning, bus drivers and others volunteered to clean the building and buses. Several buses were tainted with smoke residue. Volunteers dressed in white jump suits mixed cleaning chemicals before scrubbing and hosing the buses.
"We have an amazing group of people," Forget said. "I can always count on every single one of my employees."
Employees from the district's maintenance department also arrived to help. In addition, officials from three other school districts in Fremont County called Snyder Monday night and Tuesday morning to ask if they could send in buses or assist in other ways. Lander School District 1 sent five people to help clean up buses, he added.
"I have a great appreciation to them for helping us out," he said. "We have a lot of work to do."
Snyder said each bus that was in the building will have to be inspected by a team of professionals who specialize in post-fire situations. The walls and ceilings of the building also will be inspected. He said he wasn't sure when buses will be up and running for students, but he thought they should be OK to use.
"They came out looking pretty good," he said. "We're going to do our best."
Buses were not running Tuesday.
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