Investigators: Fire that destroyed Providence school buses not arson

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A fire that broke out at a Providence school bus yard at the same time drivers were striking against the First Student management company has been ruled “accidental,” according to an arson investigator’s report released Monday.

The report, published by Providence arson investigator Paul Doughty, determined the Oct. 11 fire originated in the electric service panel of one bus. The fire would ultimately damage six buses and send one firefighter to hospital with minor injuries.

“The cause of the fire is a result of an electrical short-circuit, in an energized, un-fused electrical conductor that ignited the wire insulation and other plastic materials in the electrical service panel,” the report states. “The fire in the electrical service panel then spread to the interior of Bus 6, and then to the adjoining buses.”

The report notes that members of Teamsters Local 251 were in a labor dispute with First Student – the company that owns the school buses parked in a lot at 3 Ricom Way – at the time of the fire. The two sides came to terms on a new contract the day after the fire.

The investigation found the fire started in a 2008 International model bus, which had not been operated since Sept. 26., the day before drivers started striking. Investigators said video surveillance of the buses “did not show any initial fire growth associated with the use of an ignitable liquid” and didn't “show any suspects in the area of the bus prior to the fire.”

But the report did note that the emergency exit at the rear of the bus as well as the passenger door entrance were not visible in the video surveillance. The fire burned for 16 minutes until the fire department arrived on the scene.

The city brought in Massachusetts-based Wright Group, Inc. to assist in determining the cause of the fire. Two of the analysts concluded the fire was accidental, according to the report.

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Dan McGowan ( ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

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