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story.lead_photo.caption An overnight fire destroyed buses at Ozark Regional Transit in Springdale. - Photo by David Gottschalk

UPDATE 9:45 A.M.

An early morning fire in the bus canopy of Ozark Regional Transit destroyed 20 buses, depleting the fleet and the company’s ability to maintain bus routes in the near future, according the executive director.

“I’ve got a whole world of buses that are down to their bumpers on the ground because of the fire,” said Joel Gardner. “It’s carnage.”

Gardner said the cause of the fire has not been determined. A fire marshal was due on site Tuesday morning. Gardner said employees working at the shop noticed the fire and called for help about 1 a.m. Tuesday.

“We’ve got two vehicles in service right now out of the entire fleet,” Gardner said Tuesday morning.

Four roadworthy buses survived, according to ORT officials. Two of those were undergoing maintenance at the time of the fire and will be put in service soon. Two others were receiving heavy maintenance at an off-site shop.

One bus was shielded from the fire by another bus and the fourth was still in route at 2 a.m. Those two buses will be in service today as the new Commuter Express route and the Route 65 in Springdale.

All minivans survived the fire and will be in service.

ORT will accommodate as many passengers as possible with the depleted fleet, but all services are subject to interruption, rescheduling and/or cancellation, officials said.

“Right now, we’re definitely running our George’s run, route 65 in Springdale because there’s just a whole bunch of people that need to get to work and rely on us heavily for that. That’s an easy one to operate,” Gardner said. “We ran the commuter route this morning and that’s all we’ve got today.”

Gardner said he hopes to have the other buses that survived out of the shop and in service within the next 48 hours, bringing his working fleet to six. Razorback Transit is loaning ORT a couple of buses as is the public transit provider in Pine Bluff, Gardner said.

“We’ll start assigning them to routes throughout the community and get us back up and running again,” Gardner said. “Maybe by the end of next week, if not a little sooner, we can have 10 of our routes running and maybe within two weeks have all 14 running.”

UPDATE 9 A.M.

An early morning fire in the bus canopy of Ozark Regional Transit destroyed 20 buses, depleting the fleet and the company's ability to maintain bus routes in the near future, according to a news release.

Four roadworthy buses survived, according to ORT officials. Two of those were undergoing maintenance at the time of the fire and will be put in service soon.

One bus was shielded from the fire by another bus and the fourth was still in route at 2 a.m. Those two buses will be in service today as the new Commuter Express route and the Route 65 in Springdale.

All minivans survived the fire and will be in service.

ORT will accommodate as many passengers as possible with the depleted fleet, but all services are subject to interruption, rescheduling and/or cancellation, officials said.

UPDATE 8:30 A.M.

An early Tuesday morning fire ravaged 20 public transportation buses in Springdale, causing a major reduction in service until further notice, officials said.

A unit from the Springdale Fire Department arrived at the Ozark Regional Transit at 2423 E. Robinson Ave around 1:20 a.m. after the department got a call about a vehicle fire, said Division Chief Jim Vaughan.

The crew arrived and saw two buses in flames under a large carport where all the vehicles are parked in two rows close together, Vaughan said. The structures of most of the buses are metal, but the vehicles' "skins are fiberglass, which allows them to burn and melt relatively easily,” he said

Though the first crew arrived just four minutes after the initial call, weather conditions caused the flames to spread along the fleet of buses, and 18 more quickly caught fire.

“The wind was just screaming across their parking lot, really feeding it,” Vaughan said.

Five fire engines and one ladder unit, with 24 total firefighters, responded to the scene, and they stayed until around 5 a.m., Vaughan said. Twenty buses were destroyed, leaving only four intact, according to a statement from Ozark Regional Transit.

Two of the remaining buses will be in service today as the new commuter express route and for Route 65 in Springdale, the release said. All minivans will also be in service.

Officials will accommodate people as best they can, but with such a depleted fleet, all services are “subject to interruption, rescheduling and/or cancellation,” the statement said.

Officials are beginning to investigate the cause of the blaze, which is still unknown at this time, Vaughan said. He’s been with the department for 30 years, he said, and this fire is “the first one I’ve seen like it.”

“This is a big deal that is a catastrophic thing for people’s public transportation,” he added.

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