PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Providence officials are investigating after at least six school buses went up in flames at the First Student bus yard Thursday night.
According to the Providence Firefighters Twitter page, crews responded to Ricom Way around 7:30 p.m. Thursday night.
First Student Spokesperson Frank McMahon tells Eyewitness News at least six buses were destroyed after being fully engulfed in flames. McMahon said the buses also sustained smoke and water damage.
Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare said while the cause of the fire remains under investigation, they are considering it suspicious at this time.
“We will get to the bottom of this,” Pare stressed.
Eyewitness News saw arson investigators canvassing the scene. Pare said crews will likely be in the bus yard all night trying to figure out what exactly happened.
“We have some forensic work to do, they are doing some video review as well,” Pare explained.
According to Pare, one firefighter was injured while fighting the fires. He was taken to the hospital with minor injuries.
First Student, the company that currently oversees bus operations in Providence, is locked in a battle with its drivers – who are represented by Teamsters Local 251 – over retirement plans.
The bus drivers have been on strike since Sept. 27, leaving more than 9,000 students without transportation to and from school.
Teamsters Local 251 released a statement on its Facebook page saying in part, “Teamsters Local 251 and our Providence school bus drivers condemn the property damage that occurred at the First Student bus yard after we left the picket line. We are thankful there appear to have been no serious injuries among the firefighters who quickly responded.”
The statement goes on to say, “These are our buses too. After we negotiate a secure retirement and this labor dispute ends, we’ll go back to our jobs driving those buses. Anyone who thinks that day is advanced by what happened last night is badly mistaken.”
At this time, it’s unclear if the bus yard fire is connected to the strike. Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza tells Eyewitness News this incident is “bad timing,” with city officials trying to mitigate the strike.
BREAKING: Providence officials are investigating this bus yard fire as ARSON until proven otherwise. This is where First Student keeps their vehicles-it’s the same company where bus drivers are currently striking in the city. @Jorge_Elorza @PvdPublicSafety pic.twitter.com/9621hqSWs5— Shiina LoSciuto (@ShiinaHL) October 12, 2018
“Of course it is suspicious and certainly the elephant in the room, with the timing of it also being odd, what we’re gonna do is a full investigation,” Elorza said.