School bus that caught fire in Charlotte has history of fire warnings

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools bus caught fire Wednesday
The bus caught fire Wednesday.
Published: Aug. 25, 2023 at 3:35 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The type of school bus that caught fire in Charlotte on Wednesday is the same model that has caught fire multiple times stretching more than a decade, including two previous time in Charlotte.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools bus number 1415 was on a practice run in the Overlook neighborhood of Charlotte early Wednesday afternoon when it caught fire.

Bus 1415 is a 2006 Freightliner model FS-65, according to CMS records.

WBTV archives and state records show FS-65 school buses have a history of catching fire.

Most recently, WBTV covered a FS-65 bus assigned to CMS that caught fire in January 2017.

A FS-65 bus also caught fire in Charlotte in February 2012. That incident was captured on the website for North Carolina’s school bus safety, maintained by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

Previous: CMS bus catches on fire in northwest Charlotte

According to the write-up of the 2012 fire, the incident prompted a safety advisory from the manufacturer and N.C. DPI encouraged all school districts that operated that model bus to conduct extra safety inspections.

N.C. DPI issued another safety memo about fire dangers with the FS-65 model school bus in 2017.

“In May 2011 - DPI Message # 539 - DPI informed all counties of the potential for fire in the engine compartment due to deteriorating wiring harness wire ties on Freightliner FS chassis. The high exhaust manifold temperatures allowed the alternator wire to fall on the manifold igniting the fire,” the 2017 safety memo said.

“DPI inspectors have still seen in some bus garages where they have not performed the repair to the valve cover wires as requested or needed additional repairs. Please ensure that these issues are addressed.”

The memo went on to advise school districts to conduct specific inspections of the wiring on FS-65 model school buses.

“When performing 30 day inspections technicians should also pay close attention to the battery wire showing signs of rubbing/chaffing from a bolt that goes through the fire wall on the FS65 chassis Freightliners,” the safety memo said.

The monthly inspection records for bus 1415 provided by CMS are not clear on whether inspectors performed a specific check for that problem during recent inspections.

In an email, a spokeswoman for N.C. DPI claimed the safety warnings only applied to FS-65 model school buses with a different kind of engine than the one that caught fire on Wednesday, despite the 2017 safety memo referring to all Freightliner FS chassis.

“We’re aware of the incident and have a field consultant looking into it in consultation with CMS. We don’t have any further information at this time,” The N.C. DPI spokeswoman said.

A CMS spokeswoman sent an email late Friday afternoon pointing out the FS-65 buses that previously caught fire had a different engine than the one that caught fire Wednesday.

“All of the buses with same model engines were reinspected yesterday and CMS has requested Carolina Thomas and DPI to assist in the investigation of the incident on August 23,” the spokeswoman said.