Surry school bus bursts into flames, driver saves students

Published 2:12 pm Monday, March 28, 2022

When Sondra Artis smelled smoke the morning of March 24 and saw her “check engine” light come on, she quickly pulled her school bus off Route 31 and into the parking lot of St. Paul’s Church.

She then ordered everyone out into the pouring rain, telling them, “This is not a drill.”

Almost immediately, another bus she’d radioed showed up to take her students to school. They’d already left the scene by the time Artis’ bus burst into flames.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“Her fast action saved lives,” said Scharnelle Hamlin, who witnessed the fire.

Hamlin coaches volleyball at Surry County High School, and lives along Artis’ bus route. One of her players was among the students who’d evacuated.

“When I saw the bus, it was completely engulfed in flames,” Hamlin said.

“Our students and our driver did exactly what they should have done,” said Superintendent Dr. Serbrenia Sims.

Surry County Public Schools, she said, conducts bus evacuation drills throughout the school year. Artis, she said, had gone back into the bus just before the fire to make sure everyone was off when she’d heard a loud pop.

“I am so thankful that Mrs. Artis stepped up and made sure all the students were safe,” Sims said.

There were no injuries reported. The only casualty, Artis said, was her late mother’s favorite blanket and sweater, which she’d kept with her on the bus.

At this point, the school system does not know what caused the fire, Sims said.