LUBBOCK, Texas – More than 100 Texas Tech students were stranded in Ouray late Monday after one of their buses caught on fire on the way back to Lubbock from a ski trip.
There were no injuries and only minor damage to luggage and personal belongings, according to Ouray County authorities. The students had not left Ouray as of press time Monday.
Jackson Burns, a junior energy commerce major from Midland, said he was on the bus dozing off when another student toward the back of the bus noticed smoke and the passengers began moving forward.
“Within about 30 seconds, flames arrived and everyone ran out as fast as they could,” he said. “We ran about 100 yards. Flames engulfed the bus. It got worse from there; we could hear explosions.
“About five minutes in, it was like a flamethrower was coming out of the side of the bus.”
Taylor Weeks, a freshman energy commerce major from Houston, was also on the way back to Tech from the “Mixer on the Mountain” trip, a getaway organized for sorority and fraternity members and their friends in Telluride, and was aboard the other bus on the trip.
“We tried to turn around to come help them and our bus got stuck in the snow for an hour,” she said. “Some people on the road had shovels and we got out, but it took hours. The other bus was completely charred.”
Burns said the students from the bus that caught on fire walked about a mile until they reached the other bus and then school buses were sent to pick them up and take them to the Ouray Community Center.
Around 1 p.m., Weeks said, the students were told it would be six to eight hours until buses from Albuquerque, N.M., could get the students back on their way to Lubbock.
The students were able to retrieve their cell phone chargers off the bus and get in contact with their parents and airlines, Weeks said. But not everyone’s luggage was in good condition.
“About half of the luggage is completely gone and the other half is OK,” she said. “It’s really charred; it reeks of smoke.”
She said some students on the trip had driven on their own and missed the accident. Others found flights out of nearby Montrose, and took a shuttle to the airport. Weeks, however, was not so lucky.
“I’m not too happy because I needed to go to class tomorrow and it’s looking like I’m not going to be able to,” she said Monday. “It’s hectic. We’re all really nervous and stressed. Some people have papers they need to get turned in.”
Burns agreed that the accident was not part of the fun-filled three-day weekend he had in mind.
“It’s kind of a huge…it’s really inconvenient,” he said. “You’re going to have to go to all your teachers and meet them, go to their office hours and explain what happened. It’s getting the semester off to a bad start.”
Tech student Camden Steele confirmed that he organized the trip, booked the hotel and purchased lift tickets for others, but declined to comment on the accident and any other details of the trip.
Ouray County Sheriff Dominic Mattivi said the police department was called out around 11:40 p.m. to about five to six miles south of Ouray on Red Mountain Pass for a vehicle fire. He said when they arrived, the bus was engulfed in flames and the passengers were off safely.
He said the fire department arrived on the scene and put the fire out. As far as the firefighters could tell, there were no suspicious causes of the fire.
“We’re leaning toward an electrical problem,” he said. “We don’t know for sure until we get an investigator to look at it.”
Corporal James Saunders from the Colorado State Patrol took a report on the scene and said since no one was injured, no one was at fault at the time.
He said the bus was being towed to Montrose, and it is up to the insurance company whether or not to do an investigation and find out what caused the fire.
Charlene Burch, the general manager of Alliance Bus Charters, based out of Fort Worth, declined comment until their investigation is complete.
Burns said he thinks the driver knew something was wrong with the bus before they left Telluride.
“They were going to switch out buses in Albuquerque; our bus driver said something about that,” Burns said.