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A SCHOOL bus carrying Xavier High Students returning from a school camp exploded on the Hume Freeway near Wodonga yesterday.
The 37 students, four teachers and bus driver escaped without injury.
Teacher Emily Scammell said the first sign of trouble was when drivers started flashing their lights at the bus as it neared the Lincoln Causeway off-ramp at 5.30pm.
“We had lights flashing from behind us and there was a big light flashing at the front of the bus, near the driver, saying stop,” she said.
Another teacher, who did not want to be named, said the blaze had taken hold by the time the bus stopped on the off-ramp.
“We pulled over and it was already alight,” he said.
“We tried to put it out with a little fire extinguisher but that didn’t really make much difference.”
Teachers moved students behind the freeway barrier and walked them to the nearby Black Duck reception centre where parents rushed to meet them.
“It was a little bit chaotic but they’re good kids, we settled them fairly quickly,” Mrs Scammell said.
The year 9 and 10 physical education students were returning from a three-day camp at Ocean Grove.
“We’re 10 kilometres from home so it’s a good spot for it to happen, if there is a good spot,” one teacher said.
Culcairn based Lodges Bus Service owner Brad Lodge was at the scene.
“Obviously a full investigation is going to take place, I’m going to ring the Office of Transport Safety Investigations now,” he said.
“The main thing is the kids, the teachers and the driver got off safely.”
Sgt Damian Bould, from Wodonga Police, praised the teachers and the bus driver for their quick thinking.
“There was a very prompt response and a quick evacuation which ensured no one was hurt,” Sgt Bould said.
He said it appeared a mechanical failure sparked the blaze but that a fire investigator would examine the 57-seat Volvo today.
One of the teachers said he had no concerns about travelling with Lodges in the future.
“I have no concerns at all, it’s just mechanical failure,” he said.
“They’ve always been fantastic, and we’ll continue to use them after this.”
Wodonga Fire Brigade senior station officer Lyndon Bradley said 15 firefighters used a combination of foam and water to extinguish the fire.
The fibreglass could be seen melting off as the firefighters fought for 15 minutes to contain the fire, which destroyed the rear of the bus.