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'Buses are safe,' Henry school leader maintains

Photo by Hugh Osteen

Photo by Hugh Osteen

While investigators have not formally made a determination on what caused a school bus to catch fire Monday, officials in the Henry County School System are expressing their confidence in the safety of the school system's bus fleet.

Murry Chambers, Henry's assistant director of transportation services, acknowledged concern over Monday's bus fire, and its cause. He said the bus received a ‘pass' rating during its annual inspection on July 25.

Still, Chambers emphasized his confidence in the health and maintenance of the system's fleet of 350 school buses — 41 in sub-fleet and 309 in active fleet. Presently, no other bus re-evaluations have been scheduled.

Chambers expects the system will respond based on the findings of the fire investigation. It is being conducted the Henry County Fire Department.

Twenty-two students were evacuated Monday, none with injuries, according to Henry County Fire Capt. Sabrina Puckett. She said firefighters responded to a call at 4786 Mitchell's Ridge Drive, in Ellenwood, just before 8 a.m., when they found the bus ablaze.

"Henry County Fire Department is thankful that all the students were able to exit the bus without injury ...," said Puckett.

School officials said the bus had completed its elementary school route and was in the middle of its middle and high school route, transporting students to Austin Road Middle School and Stockbridge High School.

"The fire started at the front of the bus, believed to be in the engine area," said J.D. Hardin, the school system's communications specialist.

No cause had been determined officially as of late Tuesday afternoon.

Henry's assistant director of transportation services said he anticipates some cost recovery for the loss through insurance. Any reimbursement, he said, would likely be based on the depreciated value of the bus.

Chambers said a new school bus would cost approximately $80,000. The bus that was destroyed Monday was 11 years old — the median age of school buses in the fleet.