Providence school bus yard fire considered suspicious

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.

Frank McMahon, spokesman for First Student said that the police and fire are dealing with the situation and are conducting an investigation. “Until the investigation is complete we probably don't have further comment,” said McMahon in a phone interview.

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.

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.

Video: Several First Student buses burned in Providence

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

“Of course it is suspicious and certainly the elephant in the room, with the timing of it also being odd, what were gonna do is a full investigation," Elorza said.

Several buses went up in flames in the First Student bus yard Thursday night, with authorities saying they are investing it as arson.

First Student Spokesman Frank McMahon told NBC 10 at least six to seven buses were involved. He said the buses have been “really destroyed,” adding that other buses potentially suffered smoke and water damage.

Six or seven really destroyed — substantially destroyed buses, he said. The Providence police asked us to come back to the fence line here. It was an active crime scene at this particular point in time. Well sit back and wait until the police department and fire department is done with their work.

McMahon said the buses are worth approximately $60,000 to $80,000 each — a loss of nearly a half of a million dollars.

The Providence Fire Department noted in a tweet that crews were out with multiple buses on fire off Union Avenue on Ricom Way. One firefighter suffered minor injuries, but was treated at the scene.

Police said around 7:30 p.m., a nearby security guard called 911, reporting one bus on fire. Then, the flames spread.

Mayor Jorge Elorza, along with Providence Safety Commissioner Steven Pare, also responded to the scene.

Of course, it is suspicious, Elorza said. Certainly, the elephant in the room, the timing of it, also is odd.

It is unknown if the fire is connected to a strike between First Student and the bus drivers union. Teamsters Local 251 went on strike Sept. 27 after contract talks broke down over retirement benefits.

But First Student said the program is failing and that it would be irresponsible to put their workers into it. The company offered to increase 401(k) contributions.

The strike has left about 9,000 public school students without school bus rides. The city is not providing alternative transportation.

First Student and the Teamsters have until Friday to reach an agreement before the city pulls resources.

Posted in Providence