Twenty-two students and a bus driver got a flaming start to the new school year Monday, when their school bus caught fire on a morning bus route, in the Ellenwood area of northern Henry County.
"The bus had already completed its elementary school route and was in the middle of its middle and high school route," said J.D. Hardin, communications specialist with Henry County Schools.
The Henry County Fire Department responded to the school bus fire, at 4786 Mitchell's Ridge Drive, in Ellenwood, just before 8 a.m. on Monday, according to Henry County Fire Capt. Sabrina Puckett.
Puckett said firefighters were faced with a heavily engulfed school bus on their arrival. She confirmed that each student aboard the bus made a safe exit without injury.
At the time of the incident, Hardin said, nearly two dozen students were on the bus — a combination of middle and high school students headed to Austin Road Middle School, and Stockbridge High.
"The bus driver evacuated all the students according to the bus driver training and did an excellent job of ensuring their safety," said Hardin.
Arrangements were made through Henry County Schools Transportation Services to get the students to their respective schools. Hardin said the students made it to schools around 9 a.m., about 30 minutes late.
"The fire started at the front of the bus, believed to be in the engine area," Hardin said. "There is not an exact determination on what caused the fire, but the fire department investigators are on the scene trying to determine that right now," Hardin said Monday.
The vehicle, a 2000 model bus, was 11 years old, according to Cliff Shearouse, Henry's director of transportation services. Shearouse noted the bus received a "pass" rating on its last inspection in July 2011.
Hardin said there were no other incidents. He said all other routes ran a smooth first-day-of-school schedule, and there were no known incidents at any schools.