A Wake school bus, inspected earlier that day, catches fire with a child on board

A Wake County school bus that caught fire last week in Cary while a student was on board had been inspected by maintenance workers earlier that day.

School bus No. 1122 was transporting a Highcroft Elementary School student home on Thursday around 4:20 p.m. when the driver noticed smoke coming from the front of the bus, according to the school district. The driver followed safety protocol by pulling over along N.C. 55 and evacuating with the student.

The Cary Fire Department responded and put out the fire. No injuries were reported.

School officials said Monday that the bus had been pulled from service for repairs during the summer.

On Thursday, school transportation maintenance staff conducted what the district called a “routine 30-day inspection” before the bus was returned to service. They said workers performed “preventative maintenance” as part of the inspection.

District officials say all buses undergo an inspection once every 30 days, along with daily checks by bus drivers before and after each bus run. Buses are pulled from service when repairs are required.

School officials say the cause of the fire is under investigation, but early indications point to a failure in the air conditioning system. The state Department of Public Instruction’s school bus transportation division has been asked to help with the investigation.

Following the bus fire, the district sent a reminder to all school administrators stressing the importance that students understand the bus evacuation drill and be prepared should they need to follow the drill in a real emergency.

Wake County released copies of the maintenance records of the bus on Monday.

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.