Gwinnett transit bus catches fire -- third time for that model

The bus, loaded with 22 passengers, was headed north on the I-85 North access road near Sugarloaf Parkway just before 6 p.m. when the engine compartment caught fire. The driver quickly pulled over and activated the bus’ internal fire suppression system, quenching the blaze, said Phil Boyd, director of Gwinnett Transit. Everyone evacuated safely.

Still, Boyd called the fire “troubling.”

County officials are trying to determine whether there is a problem with that particular model bus -- the Orion VII. The same type of bus caught fire on July 8 and March 27.

“We’re just doing everything we can to try to prevent these situations,” Boyd said. “We’re going to take a hard look at what is the cause, is it a cause that is systemic across this set of buses and if it is we’ll do something about it.”

Gwinnett County Transit suffered a string of four bus fires in late 2006 and early 2007 partly due to a design flaw in the turbochargers of its Orion VII buses. The engines on those buses, which were 2002 models, were all retrofitted to correct the problem, Boyd said.

The buses with the recent problems were manufactured in 2005. Gwinnett transit buses run on compressed natural gas. Boyd said the engine temperatures for compressed natural gas buses are much higher than other engines.

“Just the temperature of the metals in the engine compartment are enough that if you have a breach of fluid, it can ignite,” Boyd said.

Officials believe that is how Wednesday’s bus fire occurred.

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