Arson has been ruled out as a cause of a fire Friday that destroyed eight Gainesville city school buses, Gainesville Fire Chief Jon Canada said Wednesday.
"We’re still in the investigation phase of the fire, but at this time, we’re not looking at this being a suspicious fire," he said. "There is no evidence on that video footage that leads us in the direction of it being suspicious."
Canada said there is no evidence at this time to lead investigators to continue an arson investigation.
State fire marshals and local fire investigators were able to determine on which bus the fire began by reviewing bus yard video footage, he said. Canada said the video footage does not reveal an individual in the bus lot at the time of the fire and burn patterns on the bus do not indicate arson.
"Unless something comes back up through the rest of the investigation that would lead us otherwise, we are saying it’s not suspicious and it is not arson," Canada said.
Canada said investigators have not concluded what started the fire or where it started on the bus. He said officials now are looking at several electrical and mechanical components on the bus engine and other parts to determine the cause of the fire.
"Through the process of elimination, as they go through and look at each part of that bus to narrow it down to where the fire started and how it started. That can take some time. As we find things, we may bring in other individuals who are experts in certain areas," Canada said.
A garbage man emptying Dumpsters near the bus lot on Woods Mill Road at Gainesville Middle School reported the fire to 911 at 4:30 a.m. Friday morning.
The fire traveled from one bus to another and consumed eight buses and damaged a ninth before Gainesville firefighters put out the blaze. No one was injured.
Investigators initially considered the possibility that someone had started the bus fire because it occurred at 4:30 a.m. on the last day of school, Canada said.
"Thankfully it was more coincidental than anything," he said.
Gainesville schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said the school system has turned over all of its bus maintenance records to local fire officials to assist in the investigation.
"I am confident that we have done our due diligence in maintaining our buses," Dyer said. "We are now examining all of our buses to be sure that they are in safe operating condition before we begin summer school next week."
As a safety precaution, Gainesville school buses did not take children to school Friday morning. But after the fire department checked out all 38 unburned buses and found them safe, the fleet transported children home Friday afternoon.
Dyer said the school system’s insurance agent is working with the Gainesville Fire Department and has yet to determine the type of claim to be filed on the incident. She said the school system likely will pay a one-time $10,000 deductible on the incident once the insurance claim is filed.
The school system could purchase buses from neighboring school systems that have excess buses for the upcoming school year, Dyer said. She said the system also has spoken with the Blue Bird Corp. and she is confident the system can get some new school buses before school starts Aug. 11.