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January 11, 2013 at 7:33 AM

I-5 in Seattle reopens after bus fire south of Northgate

Traffic on Interstate 5 is sluggish this morning after a fire aboard a Sound Transit bus forced the closure of the interstate near Northgate. (Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)

(Photo courtesy of WSDOT)

Tessa Halterman was aboard Sound Transit bus No. 510, on her way to work in downtown Seattle, when it came to a sudden stop in the middle of Interstate-5 just south of Northgate Friday morning.

After the driver stepped off to check the back engine, Halterman and the woman next to her noticed an intense burning smell, followed by two loud pops.

Then the driver ran back to the crowded bus and yelled at passengers, some standing in the aisles, one in a wheelchair, to evacuate immediately. About 30 seconds later the back of the bus exploded in flames, Halterman said.

“I feel crazy saying this, but there were flames literally 30 feet in the air and the entire back part of the bus is just totally gone,” said Halterman, a lawyer at Robinson Tate law firm downtown.

No one was injured in the explosion, which happened at about 6:45 a.m., closing the freeway for almost an hour. Authorities are investigating what caused it.

After the explosion, passengers began running down the freeway to get as far from the bus as possible. A few stayed to help carry a woman in a wheelchair off the bus.

“That bus driver deserves some sort of recognition, because if he hadn’t handled the situation the way he had, it would have been a lot worse,” Halterman said.

Seattle firefighters had the fire out by 7:38 a.m., said fire department spokesman Kyle Moore. Passengers were picked up by another bus, according to Sound Transit spokeswoman Kimberly Reason.

The mainline of I-5 reopened at 7:45 a.m., State Patrol Trooper Julie Judson said. Two of the express lanes reopened just after 9:30 a.m. but traffic delays remained throughout the morning.

Cathy van Winkle, a teacher at Wing Luke elementary on Seattle’s Beacon Hill, said it took her 1 hour and 45 minutes to drive to work from her home in Shoreline using Greenwood Avenue North to go around the blockage. It normally takes her about 40 minutes.

This video shows the charred remains of the bus.

Comments | More in Traffic & Transit | Topics: Interstate 5, Washington State Patrol

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