'Extremely grateful’: Driver evacuates Minnesota school bus before it bursts into flames

A school bus driver in Minnesota kept calm Monday afternoon, evacuating members of a middle school basketball team from the vehicle before it burst into flames, officials said.

According to Richfield Public School officials, the driver was transporting the Richfield Middle School seventh-grade boys basketball team to its opening game around 3:30 p.m. when he smelled smoke coming from the vents, WCCO reported.

The bus was headed toward Maplewood, and the driver pulled the vehicle off the road on Interstate 494 and evacuated the 18 players and the team's coach, KARE reported.

“The driver smelled smoke and saw smoke coming through the bus vents,” school district officials said in a statement. “He immediately pulled over and evacuated the students.”

A Minnesota Department of Transportation traffic camera showed students standing outside the bus as gray smoke billowed and orange flames consumed the vehicle's engine, the Star Tribune reported.

"(We) kind of smelled some smoke or something, and then we saw black smoke coming out of the front of the bus," basketball coach Daniel Beyel told WCCO. "I'm just really proud of the kids for responding calmly, getting off the bus."

The game was canceled and students returned to Richfield.

Superintendent Steven Unowsky said the driver’s “swift and decisive” actions ensured students and staff were safe.

“We are extremely grateful that there were no injuries and that our driver was able to quickly and calmly evacuate students,” Unowsky said in a statement. “His swift and decisive actions ensured students and staff were safe.”

Public Statement At around 3:30 p.m. today, a school bus transporting the Richfield Middle School seventh grade boys...

Posted by Richfield Middle School on Monday, January 13, 2020

“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,” Dan Kretsinger, director of facilities and transportation, said in the Richfield Public School District’s statement.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation by the Minnesota State Police, school officials said.

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