The Daily Californian Online

Mattress May Have Been Cause of AC Transit Bus Fire

By Noor Al-Samarrai
Contributing Writer
Friday, November 12, 2010
Category: News > Parking and Transportation

Fire began spouting from an AC Transit 18 line bus as it grumbled its way into its usual stop at Dwight Way and Shattuck Avenue on Monday.

As the bus driver pulled up to the stop, nearby cars began honking, calling her attention to a white cloud of smoke puffing from the back of the bus, said passenger and UC Berkeley junior Kelly Eng. The driver investigated and ran back to the front of the bus, shouting to warn the passengers and instruct them to disembark.

"She kept asking us why we weren't getting off the bus fast enough," Eng said.

The vehicle's 12 to 15 passengers were safely herded from the bus with the driver's help just in time - shortly after being evacuated, the rear of the bus was engulfed in flames.

Firefighters from the Berkeley Fire Department arrived on the scene at about 12:35 p.m., by which time heavy fire and black smoke could be seen from other parts of the city - as far away as City Hall - said Deputy Fire Chief Gilbert Dong.

Spectators gathered to watch as firefighters brought the blaze under control at approximately 12:50 p.m., according to Sabina Imrie, the department's assistant fire chief for special operations. The bus was then towed away for further investigation by the department, Dong said.

He said the fire was caused by a combustible object that got caught behind the bus's right wheel well. As the object - what appeared to be a mattress - was dragged along the roadway, friction and heat intensified and triggered the fire. The flames then spread from the right undercarriage to the back portion of the bus.

Although the bus was an older model, its age was not a factor in the fire, said AC Transit spokesperson Clarence Johnson.

Both Dong and Johnson noted that the incident was an uncommon occurrence.

"It's the first time in my career that I've heard of a major bus fire," Dong said.

Although no nearby buildings were exposed to the fire, the surface of the roadway was melted, sustaining damage that will have to be repaired by the Berkeley Public Works Department, according to Dong.

Johnson said the bus driver was shaken and traumatized by the experience and has not yet returned to work as of Wednesday.

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