“We’re unable to determine any cause at this time,” said interim Fire Chief Richard Tupper.
Downeast Transportation is going to investigate whether it was a blown tire caused the fire or a mechanical defect, Tupper said.
The incident began at 7:15 a.m. when the driver had returned from a run to Bar Harbor and was picking up commuters for another trip.
She realized that one of the inner tires had gone flat and left to get another bus at Colwell Diesel.
Meanwhile, a passenger on the bus smelled smoke and went out to investigate, Tupper said. The passenger saw flames in the wheel well of the flat tire and got everyone off the bus and called for help.
However, the caller’s misstatement about where the bus was located initially sent the Ellsworth Fire Department to the Mill Mall off State Street. The firefighters turned around after not finding anything on fire and drove to the Maine Coast Mall.
“On our arrival the bus was fully involved in the parking lot behind the mall, approximately 40 feet away from the building and 30 feet from commuter vehicles,” Tupper said.
As the Fire Department drove up, the propane tanks, which power the bus, were venting, Tupper said.
Tupper explained that once propane tanks heat to a certain temperature, a valve will automatically open to release the gas so the tank doesn’t explode.