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Transit bus catches fire on Interstate 85

LAWRENCEVILLE - A Gwinnett County Transit bus caught fire Wednesday, the second such incident in three months to shut down traffic on Interstate 85.

Brian Allen, the county's transportation director, said the 3 p.m. fire was not as extensive as a Dec. 7 blaze that closed all lanes of I-85 southbound for several hours.

Less than an hour after Wednesday's engine fire, only two lanes of I-85 southbound remained closed between Indian Trail Road and the Center Way bridge, said Lt. Thomas Rutledge, spokesman for the Gwinnett County Fire Department. All lanes were opened before 5 p.m.

At the time of the fire, four lanes had been closed. The Fire Department was dispatched at 2:59 p.m., and the fire was under control at 3:10 p.m., Rutledge said.

"It was backed up, if I can imagine," Rutledge said. "It had a significant impact on people traveling southbound on I-85."

In both incidents, only the driver was on the bus at the time of the fire and was able to escape uninjured. Wednesday's blaze caused heavy damage to the engine and rear passenger compartments, Rutledge said.

Allen said he did not anticipate a service delay as another bus was sent to replace the one heading downtown.

"Everything's taken care of," he said. "There were no passengers on the bus. ... We'll bring another bus in."

The cause of Wednesday's fire was unknown, but the December fire was traced to a hydraulic leak in the exhaust manifold, Allen said. Veolia Transportation, which manages the county's fleet, will be called in to investigate the cause of the Wednesday's engine conflagration.

The bus, which runs on compressed natural gas, was towed off I-85.

Bill Powell, the deputy director of transportation for the county, said the bus manufactured by Orion was between three and four years old and could hold between 35 and 40 people. That is the same manufacturer as the bus that caught fire in December, but Powell could not say if they were the same type of bus. The county has several different types from the same manufacturer.

After the December incident, Veolia inspected all of the county's fleet, Allen said, and determined that they were safe. He said the bus that caught fire Wednesday should have been inspected with the others, but that he did not have records to prove that it had been.

However, Allen said bus riders should not be nervous about getting on the county's express buses, which serve 2,000 people daily. Another 5,000 people ride local routes.

"I don't see any reason for any panic at this point in time," he said.