City officials are calling an electric bus that caught fire early Wednesday morning an anomaly.
The incident was reported around 1:30 a.m. at the Wichita transit maintenance building at 777 E. Waterman. Maintenance staff and security noticed a lithium-ion battery powered bus had caught fire.
The bus is powered by 10 lithium-ion batteries. Eight are mounted on the roof and two sit in the rear of the bus. The fire apparently originated from a single battery placed on the top, said Michael Tann, director of transit for the city.
“What it looks like is one battery was engulfed up on the roof,” Tann said.
The bus was brought in for maintenance after a check engine light had popped up earlier on Tuesday after it ran during the day, Tann added.
At the time it was brought in, no work had been done to it and it was not charging when the battery caught fire, Wichita transit maintenance superintendent Gregg Ringold said.
“Nobody had touched it yet and all of sudden it did what it did,” Ringold said.
City officials say this is not the first time the bus has had an issue. Wichita firefighters responded to a smoke incident on the same bus nine months ago.
“The smoke incident that happened nine months ago was not high voltage related,” said Ringold. “It was low voltage.”
Low voltage has to do with powering the lights, dash and other small electrical aspects of the bus. Wednesday’s incident was high voltage with the batteries that make the bus run, Tann said.
Representatives from Complete Coach Works will be at the transit building tomorrow to inspect the bus, which will be hauled off.
“They’re going to take it back to their plant and inspect it from top to bottom,” Ringold said.
When asked if the check engine light could be a factor in the fire, Ringold said it is too early to tell in the investigation.
The batteries on the city’s 11 electric powered buses are good for 12 to 14 years. The buses have run since September 2020 and around half a million miles, according to Tann.
“This seems to be an anomaly and we’re going to get to the bottom of it,” Ringold said.
The other electric city buses were inspected after the fire and are functioning normally, Tann said.
Fires from lithium-ion batteries have been blamed for causing injuries and deaths.
During 2021 and 2022, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission received reports of 208 fires or overheating events in 39 states, resulting in 19 fatalities linked to small electronic vehicles like scooters and bicycles.
“Everybody has certainly seen the talk about Tesla cars and batteries and all that kind of stuff,” Tann said. “But from our standpoint, we have not heard of any systematic or any serious issue with these buses.”
Reporters were allowed to see the bus Wednesday in the transit building’s lot and the inside appeared to have no damages.
Contributing: Sarah Moore of The Wichita Eagle