A QUICK-thinking driver narrowly escaped injury in a fierce bus blaze just minutes after he dropped pupils off.
Fire ripped through the 16-seater minibus shortly after it had dropped youngsters off at Springwell Primary School, in Wiltshire Way, Hartlepool, at 9am yesterday.
The driver had pulled away and was heading along Catcote Road when he smelled smoke.
He stopped and got out to check the engine, but as he lifted the bonnet, the passenger compartment of the bus was engulfed by flames,
The fire was so ferocious that it burned a hole in the vehicle’s roof and left the Pauls Travel bus a write-off.
Paul Little, part-owner of the Wharton Terrace-based firm, praised his driver’s quick reactions that made sure no-one got hurt and traffic was not held up.
Mr Little said: “Thankfully the bus was empty as the fire really took hold and burned everything.
“You can check the bus over in the morning, do all the safety checks and have MOTs, but freak incidents can and do happen.
“I must praise the driver for his fast reactions. He could have carried on and tried to get back to the office, but he followed the training that all our drivers undergo.
“He pulled over into a safe place and made sure there was no danger to anyone, including himself.
“It’s the first time that something like this has happened with the company, and hopefully the last.”
The driver, who did not want to be named, was given two days off work to recover as he was said to be “shaken” by his ordeal.
He had rang the company office after stopping to check where the smoke was coming from, and was still on the line when the blaze erupted.
The office called the fire brigade as he desperately tried to douse the flames with a fire extinguisher that was in the bus.
Lee Ryan, crew manager at Stranton Fire Station, said: “The fire spread quickly and destroyed the passenger compartment. No-one was hurt as the bus was empty at the time.
“It seems to have been caused by an electrical fault, which can happen with vehicles.
“We were there for around 20 minutes.”
Police officers were also called to the fire, which happened near Catcote School.
A Cleveland Police spokeswoman said: “The road was partly blocked and had to be closed for a short period. It was reopened at 9.35am.
“Officers checked everything was okay and no further police action will be taken.”
Mr Little said the bus, which was nicknamed Bertha, was covered by insurance.
He added: “It could have been worse, so that’s the way we have to look at it.
“It’s a headache as we have lost a bus, but that can be replaced.
“The main thing is that no-one was injured.”
l Follow Mark Thompson on Twitter@MThompsonHMail