UC Merced bus on the way to pick up students, passengers catches fire, driver says

The back of a UC Merced bus caught fire in Merced as it was on the way to pick up students, officials said.

The driver reported the fire at about 3 p.m. Tuesday as he was driving north on M Street approaching West Yosemite Avenue, Merced City Fire Captian Kevin Ploog said.

The driver, who was the only person on the bus, stopped in the right lane and evacuated, Ploog said. A fire truck responded and noticed mechanical components in the back of the bus on fire.

The fire was knocked down within three minutes, Ploog said. It took more time for investigators to examine the rear engine.

Ploog said investigators and bus officials who arrived on scene think the fire possibly started with the electrical air conditioning motor, but the cause wasn't known Tuesday

"Luckily, there were no passengers on the bus," said Curtis Riggs, CEO of Via Trailways, which manages the CatTracks buses for UC Merced. The bus was covering a special route on its way to UC Merced, he said. The driver didn't report any injuries.

The bus will be examined by the VIA Trailways investigators, which is important because the company needs to know if there are any specific engine issues affecting other buses as well, Riggs said.

Riggs said he could recall one instance of a bus catching fire in the past. But the cause of that fire was due to leaves, twigs and other debris present in the engine compartment. And the company has put in measures to make sure it doesn't happen again, he said.