A bus fire in a remote part of Kazakhstan killed over 50 people in January 2018. (Associated Press)
Last week, a bus carrying tourists to Mao Zedong's hometown in southern China burst into flames, killing more than two dozen people. The cause of the fire wasn't initially reported, but one survivor said it seemed to break out at the back of the bus and quickly overcame passengers who didn't have time to escape, the New York Times reported.
The Times said the incident exposes China's poor record of transportation safety. While government statistics claim an annual death toll of about 65,000 from transportation accidents in China, the World Health Organization estimates the real figure is closer to 250,000.
But, as I reported in the Dispatches: International section of the July/August 2018 issue of NFPA Journal, bus fires aren't all that uncommon in countries around the globe. In January 2018, a bus fire in a remote part of Kazakstan killed over 50 people. A couple of months later, 20 people died in a bus fire in Thailand. And in October of last year, children narrowly escaped death or injury when a school bus ignited in Wisconsin.
The July 2018 Journal article was prompted by a spate of bus fires in Rome, and points out that even in countries like the United States, bus fires occur with some regularity—although they're far less common than other types of fires.
"A report published in November 2016 by the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which analyzed data from 2004 to 2013, found that fires in motor coaches (defined as buses designed for long-distance passenger transportation) occurred almost daily on average, while fires in school buses occurred more than daily for a combined average of over 550 each year," the article says. "And that’s just for two types of buses." Mechanical failures are usually to blame for the blazes.
In 2005, 23 people died in a bus fire that occurred in a bus that was evacuating nursing home patients from Houston as Hurricane Rita marched toward the coast. In response to that incident, NFPA released a report that found about six bus fires occurred on average each day in the US from 1999 to 2003. More recent NFPA data suggests that figure has dropped to between four and five.