Students evacuate as ski bus burns on Mount Baker Highway; none hurt

A bus caught fire Saturday morning, Feb. 13, 2016, on Mount Baker Highway.
A bus caught fire Saturday morning, Feb. 13, 2016, on Mount Baker Highway. Courtesy to the Bellingham Herald

A bus full of middle school-aged kids caught fire on Mount Baker Highway and burned near the ski area Saturday morning, Feb. 13.

A witness, Cameron Hamilton, 28, said he was driving up the highway near the last big switchback before the Mt. Baker Ski Area around 8:30 a.m. when he noticed traffic backing up. He rounded a corner and saw flames shooting high into the air from a tour bus.

He saw about 40 to 50 middle school-age children had been evacuated from the bus.

“It was weird,” he said. “Everyone was calm.”

The kids, from the Bellingham area, were loaded onto a second bus to be taken up the mountain.

Hamilton said he was told to just drive past the wreckage — through the smoke — and to keep going uphill. He spoke with a reporter on a cell phone while he was in line at a chairlift. He said he could still see the smoke rising from the highway.

A second witness, Anthony Brown, said the students made it off the bus but their gear did not.

Authorities were investigating a mechanical problem as the likely cause of the fire. The back of the bus had been leaking fluid, possibly oil, before the fire broke out around mile post 51, said Trooper Heather Axtman.

Mount Baker Highway, officially called Highway 542, climbs steeply in the last few miles before its terminus.

State troopers and local firefighters responded to the scene. There were no injuries, Axtman confirmed.

The bus is owned by a charter business based in Everett, according to the state patrol.

Meanwhile, highway traffic was stalled. Only about 30 or so cars managed to make it to the ski area parking lot in the morning.

By the afternoon traffic was alternating. Troopers hoped to have what remained of the bus to be towed from the scene by 2 p.m.

Caleb Hutton: 360-715-2276, @bhamcaleb