Bus 188 was leaving a CMS bus lot on Tuesday to pick up its daily load of students and deliver them home, when the driver smelled smoke.
The bus, an FS-26 Freightliner built in 2001 by Thomas Built Buses, had just been inspected in October, with nothing found amiss.
The driver, aware something was wrong, attempted to turn the bus around and head back into the lot, but sensing that vehicle might not make it, stopped and evacuated. Then the engine compartment burst into flames.
Footage captured by WSOC-TV showed large, black plumes of smoke billowing from the front end of the bus as firefighters arriving on the scene worked to control the flames. No one was hurt.
The incident came four weeks after bus 364, another FS-26 Freightliner built by Thomas Built Buses, was carrying students home from South Meck High on a Thursday afternoon when the engine compartment also spontaneously combusted. All sixteen students and the driver safely evacuated. The bus was severely damaged.
At a press briefing Wednesday, CMS Chief Operations Officer Carol Stamper called the two fires "isolated incidents," but stressed that the department was not taking the matter lightly.
"We have now had two fires," Stamper said, "This is very, very unusual in our district. It is unusual in the nation. So we are taking this extremely seriously."
The school district says it's launching a five-point response plan, with a primary focus on finding out the cause of the fires, and re-inspecting roughly 260 other FS-26 Freightliner buses used by the district.
It's unclear whether this investigation will go further than the investigation launched into the first incident, which turned up no clear explanation for the fire.
Stamper said until a cause is determined, the school district has no plans to pull buses from operation, and noted that the two buses in question were considered "spares," and were only used when regularly assigned buses were out for maintenance or other reasons.
The district says it will notify the public as soon as the results of the investigation are known. In addition, the district is launching a criminal investigation to determine whether anyone may have tampered or otherwise modified the two buses.