COMANCHE CO., Okla_ A school bus with 43 students on board caught fire Tuesday on H.E. Bailey Turnpike. The bus and some of the band equipment was destroyed, but everyone got off safely.
The bus was part of a three-bus caravan on its way from Norman to Lawton for a band competition, when the fire broke out between Elgin and Medicine Park.
It wasn't how the 43 band students from Norman High School planned on spending their afternoon. Norman High School Assistant Band Director, Joel Deardorf was in Bus 3 and noticed smoke coming out of the engine of Bus 2 around 3:00PM, as the caravan traveled down the turnpike.
"We called up there, and they pulled over on the side of the road," Deardorf said. "We very orderly and safely got all the kids off, and we've been about a quarter of a mile away from the bus since it caught on fire."
All three of the buses pulled over along with parents who were following behind. Carrie Mitchell is one of those band members' parents. She said she could see something burning in the distance. Then, she got a text from her son, who had just gotten safely off the burning bus.
"I felt panic and relief all at the same time," Mitchell said.
She said the first thing running through her mind was making sure that every kid was okay.
"These kids obviously did the right thing and took care of themselves and got themselves off," Mitchell said. "All is good."
Dana Anderson also had a child on that bus.
"We didn't even realize it was a Norman bus at first," Anderson said. "We just saw smoke and said, ‘Oh, my gosh, I hope it isn't a bus full of kids!' When we realized it was our kids' school, I burst into tears. Once I saw all the kids on the side of the road, I knew everybody was probably safe."
Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers blocked off both east and westbound lanes of I-44 while the bus was on fire. Tribal police also assisted OHP in blocking traffic while the Elgin Fire Department put out the flames.
"Right now the safety of our students is paramount," Deardorf said. "Making sure they get a hold of their parents and making sure that everybody knows that everyone is safe is job number one."
A Lawton Public Schools bus drove to the students on the turnpike and took them back to Cameron University for the competition.
Unfortunately, their instruments and uniforms did burn up in the fire, but Norman Public Schools stated on their facebook page that Norman North High School band students are lending their instruments to NHS band members, so they can compete.