A tour bus carrying a group of schoolchildren from Ocala caught fire this morning on Service Drive behind C Building at Santa Fe College’s Northwest campus. All the children were evacuated safely from the bus by the time Alachua County Fire Rescue arrived to extinguish the fire.
The bus carried 47 people, including four teachers and 42 third graders from Dr. N.H. Jones Elementary in Ocala. They were on a field trip to the Kika Silva Pla Planetarium and SF Teaching Zoo.
The bus driver, John Batten from Eagle Classic Coach, said he was going over a speed bump when he saw smoke coming from the rear of the bus. He immediately pulled over and began evacuating the children. SF student Doug Prince, a biology major from Newberry, assisted Batten in the evacuation.
“The kids were fine but the parents were outside screaming and crying. I don’t think the kids realized how serious it was,” said Prince.
Santa Fe personnel led the children to the planetarium where ACFR District Chief Larry Stewart had three of his emergency medical personnel examine them. SF Police Chief Daryl Johnston said all the children appeared to be uninjured.
“The driver did a good job getting the folks off the bus and away from the vehicle,” Stewart said.
SF spokesperson Larry Keen said counselors were available and the children were offered pizza since some of their lunches were damaged in the fire.
Stewart said his unit responds to calls on I-75, so this particular incident was not unusual for them. He said this is classified as a large vehicle engine compartment fire and, as is typical in these types of fires, there was some damage to vehicles parked nearby.