Ten kindergarten students travelling in a school bus had a narrow escape on Saturday afternoon when their bus caught fire onSV Road near Andheri station. A major tragedy was averted after the driver of the bus, Baba Patel parked the bus on the side of the road the moment he noticed smoke coming from the engine and rallied local shopkeepers to evacuate the children quickly. Moments later the bus burst into flames and was completely gutted.
The students, all belonging to Millat High School’s kindergarten division, were seated inside the school bus as it travelled southwards on SV Road. The incident took place near Andheri station at around 12 noon.
According to eyewitnesses, the school bus was on its way from the school, dropping children home, when it caught fire. While speaking to the police, Patel explained that on noticing smoke coming from somewhere in the bus, he parked the bus and evacuated the children.
Police suspect the fire could be due to a leakage in the CNG tank. Even as the rescued children were being escorted to safety, the bus went up in flames and was gutted in minutes. Traffic on the busy arterial road, too, came to a standtill for several minutes.
Thankfully however, due to the intelligence shown by the driver, none of the children were injured in the incident. However, some eyewitnesses pointed out that even though there was a fire station just 200 metres from where the bus caught fire, fire officials took more than 30 minutes to reach the spot, leading to further traffic chaos.
Once the fire brigade reached, the flames were quickly brought under control. The exact reason of the fire is yet to be ascertained and investigations are on. However the bus driver, Baba Patel said there was some problem with the engine of the bus and he did notice sparks. “While driving, I realised something was wrong and I could also smell gas leaking. I immediately parked the bus on the side of the road and evacuated the children. The bus, being a CNG one, went up in flames in minutes.”
Kunal Shinde, a shop owner near the spot on SV road, said, “We noticed a few sparks and helped the driver evacuate the children. By God’s grace, everybody is safe. The fire brigade arrived after 40 minutes.”
When contacted, one of the trustees of Millat High School, told Sunday MiDDAY, “The bus was run privately on a contract basis and it usually carries 50 children every day. At the time of the incident, there were only eight children inside. That is why it was easy to evacuate the children safely. All our contract buses have proper papers and are RTO approved. There could be a short circuit because of which the bus caught fire. We already have three BEST buses for our children and have asked for more BEST buses but the government has been unable to provide us more buses due to a shortage of vehicles.”
When contacted a DN Nagar police station official said that as there were no injuries, no case has been registered. Anil Garg, chairman school bus owners association, Mumbai, said, “Nothing happened to the children because of the alert school bus driver, who deserves a reward. Any bus can catch fire, as theyare machines. This, too, was an accident.”
Blast from the past
In 2008, four Millat High School girls died and seven other children were injured when a van they were travelling in caught fire inside the school premises. The children, aged between five and 10, had boarded the Omni van, which was to take them home when it caught fire. It exploded before everyone could jump out.
(Inputs by Kranti Vibhute)