WITNESSES have told The Press they heard an explosion before the engine compartment of a bus caught fire in York.

Two fire engines are currently in Stonebow and fire crews wearing breathing apparatus spent about 30 minutes tackling the blaze.

[Video by Alex Ross]

[Video by Dominic Allen]

The fire started on a Park & Ride bus operated by First York, one of just a dozen electric vehicles recently introduced to the city.

A spokesman for First Transport has told The Press the remaining 11 electric vehicles will remain in operation.

He said: "We do believe this is an isolated incident and in consideration of this and the successful history of operating these vehicles, we are continuing to operate the other 11 electric vehicles and indeed the remaining buses in our fleet.

"Of course during this period all our team will remain vigilant around safe operation of our buses and we have briefed all our team."

Witnesses said the fire started in the engine compartment at the back of the bus, exploding and blowing out the windows, before spreading further around the vehicle.

Sarah Dalton was a customer at the Hungate Development marketing suite when the fire started

She said: “Suddenly there was this massive bang and we all turned around and at first we thought it was coming from the building site next door.

“The next minute there was smoke coming out of the bus parked opposite. There was a crackling sound and it just burst into flames. It was burning in two places on the bus and it was really going up. It was so loud when it blew, even with all the windows closed in here you could hear it.”

Student Christy Thomas, 18, from Clifton Moor, was a passenger on the bus along with about ten other people when the driver told them to get off.

She said: “I was sat on the bus and the driver turned round and told everyone they needed to get off as quickly as possible because the bus was starting to smoke.

“I’m so glad I got off when I did because I was panicking when I saw the flames. You could smell the smoke straight away and everyone was scared when they saw it on fire. I’ve never been on a bus and seen anything like this before, I didn’t think it would happen to an electric bus. I’m very shook up about it.”

Sarah Bellerby, part of the complaints team at the BT Openreach office, in Stonebow, saw the drama unfold.

She said: "We all heard a huge bang and looked out of the window but could only see the bus with its hazard warning lights on.

"The bang was huge but everyone thought it must have come from the nearby building site.

"A few minutes later smoke was pouring out of the bus and it was a massive fire.

"I could see everyone had got off and the bus driver started stopping traffic as he waited for the police and fire service to turn up."

The bus was loaded onto the back of a wagon and taken from the scene around 2pm.

Crews has attempted to take it away earlier, but the damaged vehicle was still too hot to be moved so fire fighters continued dampening down the stricken bus.

[Picture by Alex Ross]

One eyewitness said the surface of the road underneath the burning bus had been damaged by the fire, and City of York Council have been called in to re-surface it.

A spokesman for First Transport said an investigation into the cause of the fire on the newly-launched electric bus would be carried out, and praised the driver for his quick thinking.

He said: "This is a very isolated incident. Thankfully thermal incidents are very rare, but they are very serious.

"The driver has done a great job in making sure that both he and customers are safe and obviously did the necessary in alerting the emergency services quickly. In terms of the cause of the incident, we need to look at that carefully."

Andy Creasey, watch manager of Acomb fire station, said they were called to the scene at noon and four fire fighters tackled the blaze in breathing apparatus from inside and outside the vehicle.

He said: “When we arrived we found the rear of the bus well alight and engulfed in flames. I made sure everyone was off the bus. The driver told me it had already broken down before it burst into flames, so there was nobody left on the bus when it ignited.

“There’s 600 volts running through the bus which did cause a risk to fire fighters. We wanted to make sure the fire was isolated before we tackled it. It took about 30 minutes to get it completely out but the main flames were out within ten minutes. We are still making sure it has cooled off. We don’t know how it started so it’s going back to First York and the manufacturers to see if we can get any information about the cause of the fire.”

Neil Ferris, assistant director for transport, highways and waste at City of York Council, said: "This is clearly a distressing incident but the actions of the bus driver are highly commendable which would appear to have prevented any serious casualties.

"Our primary concern is the safety and wellbeing of passengers and although it’s not clear what caused the fire, we have asked First Bus, as the operator of the Park&Ride service, to investigate this incident as a matter of urgency."

Sharon Wilcock, a sales negotiator at the Hungate Development, said there were two huge areas of flames on the bus, and a lot of thick black smoke.

She said: “It made such a loud bang when it went up, and I thought it was someone dropping a beam of concrete on the building site next to us.

“We thought we’d better evacuate because the bus kept going up in flames and we were worried about the glass at the front of our building shattering.”

A spokeswoman for the Yorkshire Ambulance Service said they had not been called to the scene.

Both ends of Stonebow were closed as far as the Black Swan pub while the fire was being dealt with, but police re-opened the road at 2pm.

[Picture by Kristiina Hanson]

North Yorkshire Police were forced to divert traffic close to the scene, after buses lined up close to the obstruction.

Buses which had been stopped in Stonebow were advised to turn right down Garden Place, then turn to resume their route, while others have been diverted to Foss Islands Road.

Thick smoke has been produced by the fire as crews hose down the rear of the bus, and members of the public are being moved back from the scene.

The bus is one of a fleet of 12 electric vehicles recently launched by First in the city. It is not yet clear whether the remaining vehicles will continue to operate following this incident.

More to follow.