Fire at Puyallup School District garage will affect bus routes at start of school

A two-alarm fire Wednesday at the Puyallup School District maintenance garage damaged at least 28 buses and will affect transportation when school starts Sept. 6 for the district.

The fire at 323 12th St. NW was reported about 2:20 p.m. No one was hurt in the blaze, which sent plumes of black smoke throughout the downtown area, said Brian Levings, a Central Pierce Fire & Rescue deputy fire marshal.

The 70 people on site were moved from the area and all were accounted for, School District spokesman Brian Fox said.

No damage estimate or cause of the fire was immediately available. Central Pierce fire inspectors were waiting for the site to cool before entering.

Officials said 60 to 70 buses were kept at the facility. The Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction website lists 180 active buses for the Puyallup School District.

All the damaged buses were new, Fox said.

“This will impact our plans for the start of the school year,” he said.

Superintendent Tim Yeomans went to the facility to assess the situation.

School district officials weren’t sure how extensive the damage was or whether any of the damaged buses were reparable, Fox said. And it was doubtful repairs could occur before school starts Sept. 6, he said.

Officials met Wednesday to redesign bus routes using the remainder of the district fleet.

Police and witnesses said explosions could be heard as flames ripped through the building.

“We were told by maintenance crews that, just like any shop, there’s solvents and grease and gasoline and other flammable liquids inside the area,” Levings said. “Possibly what you heard was tires exploding, also.”

The maintenance shop at the building did not catch fire, but a carport on the east side of the building was a total loss, Levings said. The damaged buses were near the burning carport.

The roof of a home south of the garage caught fire but was quickly put out by fire crews.

Wind blew smoke, debris and embers to the south, Levings said, prompting an evacuation of the area between Second and Third avenues northwest and Ninth and 12th streets northwest.

Bob Saxton, 49, kicked back in a lawn chair across Stewart Avenue from the fire and watched as black smoke billowed from the bus barn.

“When it was rolling full swing, it was quite a sight actually, complete with sound effects,” he said.

Saxton came out from his apartment after hearing three or four quick explosions and said he counted about 30, all told.

The 20-year Puyallup resident praised the fire crews’ response in saving the building despite the heavy smoke and flames.

“There was absolutely nothing they could do to knock it down right quick,” he said.

Howie Rasmussen, 38, had a melted Slushie in his hand on Stewart Avenue as he watched the smoke and flames.

“It was warm for a while,” he said. “Those explosions, man.”

He said flames were shooting up 50 feet or more from the fire.

“Right before school starts, too,” Rasmussen said. “It’s going to put a damper on their transportation system, that’s for sure.”

School bus driver Pam Thayer drove to the fire from Edgewood after her son sent her a text message to tell her about the blaze. She had done CPR training at the building Wednesday morning.

She said the fire was in the area where the district’s newer buses were parked, and estimated 60 to 70 were at the site. She was concerned that the fire was near where the special needs buses were parked.

“We don’t have a lot of spare buses, but most of our fleet’s been upgraded,” she said.

Kenny Ocker: 253-597-8627, @KennyOcker

Staff writer Debbie Cafazzo contributed to this report.