PORTLAND – Firefighters determined the fire on a bus carrying the junior varsity football team for Central Catholic High School was caused by a battery malfunction in the engine compartment.
The bus caught on fire on Highway 26 westbound near the Jefferson Street on-ramp Thursday evening.
Bus driver Jodi Fritz said she heard a couple of explosions in the rear of the bus and saw fire coming out of the sides.
"We pulled over and evacuated everybody," she said. "I just told them, 'We're on fire,' and, 'Get out,' and they did."
Fritz said they tried to put the fire out with extinguishers. But it was too big, so she called for help.
Portland Fire & Rescue crews responded at about 5 p.m. After fighting through traffic congestion and working to find a nearby water supply, they soon doused the flames.
Two coaches, an assistant coach and 49 student athletes stood in the pouring rain until the fire was out. Then they walked to downtown Portland and took a bus back to school.
"Thanks to the calm leadership of coaches Grant Hampton and Jon Taylor, the students are all safe and injury free. They are to be singled out for their handling of this potentially very dangerous situation," said Central Catholic Principal John Garrow.
The team did lose equipment and some personal property in the fire, which is covered by insurance, Garrow said.
The bus was taking the team to play Sheldon High School at Hillsboro Stadium. The game was scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m.
The game was canceled after the fire and was being rescheduled.