Fire tears through school bus depot in Lehigh Valley

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School buses damaged, destroyed by fire: Bob Brooks reports during Action News at Noon on February 23, 2018. (WPVI)

A fire tore through a school bus garage early Friday, destroying or damaging more than two dozen buses as tires exploded off their rims, forcing firefighters to back away, fire officials said. Classes in the district were cancelled.

The fast-moving blaze at a Parkland School District garage in South Whitehall, near Allentown, was reported around 3 a.m. by neighbors who said they also heard explosions.

When firefighters showed up a few minutes later, "there were flames coming out of all four sides plus the roof," said Jeff Johnson, chief of the Tri-Clover Fire Co.

Firefighters had to retreat as tires exploded off their rims and flew through the walls of the building, taking metal siding with them, Johnson said. It took about an hour to put out the fire.

Johnson said 16 buses inside the building were destroyed, and 14 outside the building received damage that ranged from blistered paint to broken windshields.

The 30 destroyed or damaged buses represent about 25 percent of the district's fleet. No injuries were reported, and the cause of the fire remained under investigation.

Some of the burned-out buses were still smoking hours later as firefighters dragged away metal siding.

As firefighters worked to bring the fire under control, schools Superintendent Rich Sniscak sent email and text alerts to parents and students saying classes were canceled. He said he hoped to have school reopen on Monday, with a few other districts offering to help get Parkland students to school with their bus fleets.

"I'm hopeful that we can patch something together for Monday," he said.

North Whitehall resident Chrissi Kent, who lives near the garage, told The Morning Call she heard "popping" from the scene for at least 45 minutes.

"Around 3 a.m. or a few minutes after, I heard a loud bang," Kent said. "Then it was quiet for a few minutes. Then I heard another bang. Shortly afterwards, I heard sirens. Then repeatedly bangs or popping sounds."

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