I-Team: Fire risk on Durham buses?

May 11, 2010 3:19:28 PM PDT
An estimated 15,000 people a day in the Bull City depend on Durham Area Transit Authority buses. They are the only means of transportation for some and a cost efficient option for others.

So when a loaded passenger bus recently burst into flames, there was cause for alarm.

Investigators say smoke filled the cabin, it alerted passengers, and the bus operator immediately called for help. All the passengers got off. Nobody was hurt, and firefighters contained the blaze to the back of the vehicle.

But ABC11 has learned this isn't the first fire emergency on a Durham bus.

Just last year, another bus caught fire. The two passengers on board made it out safely. The heavily damaged bus still sits in the maintenance yard today.

In both cases, the fire began in the engine area. Investigators traced the problem to a short in the electrical wiring.

"It's something that happens over wear and tear. The vibration of the engine causes something to move, which sparks the fire," said DATA General Manager Sean Smith.

Both buses are a 2003 model. At one point, a turbocharger for that year was recalled because it could cause an engine fire. But DATA officials say that faulty part was changed out years ago.

Now that fires have happened twice, the entire fleet of buses has been inspected. Records show no lapses in maintenance.

DATA says it has come up with what it hopes is a fire-proof solution.

"We've moved wires away from each other so that we can help prevent this from happening in the future," said Smith.

And Smith says passengers shouldn't be worried about safety.

"It is absolutely safe to ride these buses. We actually have an excellent safety record in Durham," he said.

The model of bus involved in the fires will slowly be phased out as DATA replaces them with more fuel efficient hybrids.

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