MAPLEWOOD, Minn — A bus driver is receiving praise after helping a middle school basketball team and their coach escape a burning school bus that shut down Interstate 494 in Maplewood Monday afternoon.
MnDOT traffic cameras showed the blazing fire Monday just before 3:30 p.m. Several people could be seen standing outside the bus, which was fully engulfed in flames.
The fire briefly shut down I-494 eastbound near Carver Avenue on a small portion of the freeway that runs through Maplewood, between Woodbury and Newport. At about 3:53 p.m., authorities slowly began allowing cars through on the far side of the scene.
The Minnesota State Patrol said there were no injuries. Troopers said the bus was carrying 20 people in all, including 18 kids and their basketball coach from Richfield.
According to a release from the Richfield school district, the bus driver pulled over after smelling smoke and seeing smoke come through the bus vents. The driver then evacuated all students and staff.
A Richfield school district spokesperson confirmed all of the students are safe. The children were from the 7th grade boys basketball team, who were headed to Maplewood for a game.
“We are extremely grateful that there were no injuries and that our driver was able to quickly and calmly evacuate students,” said Superintendent Steven Unowsky. “His swift and decisive actions ensured students and staff were safe.”
According to a post on the Richfield Middle School Facebook page, the bus engine caught fire. A new bus was sent to pick up the students.
“The driver has been with our transportation department for 18 years and is well known by many of our students and staff from across the District,” said Dan Kretsinger, Director of Facilities and Transportation.
Maplewood Athletics Director Katie Wirth said the basketball game was canceled, and the two schools will work to reschedule.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation by State Patrol.
According to the district the bus was only four years old, and all buses in the fleet must go through annual inspections by State Patrol. The vehicle that burned passed an inspection in December.