A BUS driver has been praised for his quick thinking after a bus caught fire on the way to Winchester.
Dozens of passengers were evacuated from a packed bus after a fire broke out in Martyr Worthy earlier today (January 13).
Some 40 people got off as the fire took hold of the Velvet vehicle on the B3047 at about 7.45am.
The driver of the 67 service, Matt Stubbs, tried to put out the fire with an extinguisher but was beaten by the spreading flames which had wrecked the single decker vehicle.
Passenger, Mark Rowe, was on his way into Winchester for a course when he was asked to get off by the driver.
“I was on the bus as normal when one of the students came forward and said to the driver that there was smoke. I thought at first she had said someone was smoking on the bus but then the bus driver pulled over and asked everybody to get off.
“He asked for my help to keep the students back away from it all which wasn’t easy because I was a bit panicked myself but the driver was very good; he kept everyone calm but the next thing I knew there were flames coming from the back of the bus.
Mr Rowe, 36, of Grange Road in Alresford, added: “The driver was absolutely brilliant and he even thanked me for my help when I left. I’m glad the driver acted as quickly as he did.
“I’m also pleased the student came forward so quickly because if she hadn’t told him then God knows what would’ve happened.”
Villager Liza Hughes said: “It is just a burned out shell. There were a lot of people waiting across the road. I don’t think anyone was hurt.
“I had been lying in bed when I saw black billowing smoke. By the time I got there the firefighters were trying to get underneath to put out the fire. It looked very dramatic, completely burnt- out.”
Police closed the road in both directions at Couch Green and at The Trout Pub by Avington Lane while the fire was tackled on at Chillandham Lane, causing long tailbacks at rush hour.
Alton station manager, Matt Palmer, who lives in Winchester was called to the scene.
He said: “The driver was alerted to some smoke by one of the passengers and he immediately stopped and vacated the bus. He then tried to extinguish the fire using an on-board extinguisher. He did exactly the right thing but couldn’t do anything more and so called for assistance.
“Two appliances attended, one from Winchester and one from Alresford. They then fought the fire using four breathing apparatus and two hose reels.
“The road has been shut because of two reasons: the first is that of the safety of our crew members who have been working around the vehicle and the second is that there is a lot of oil and debris on the road.”
Velvet quickly arranged for the 45 stranded passengers to be collected by another number 67 shortly after the fire had been extinguished.
Velvet managing director, Phil Stockley, said: "The vehicle was so badly damaged in the fire I'm not sure we will be able to identify exactly what caused the fire but we do know it started in the engine. We will be examining it more closely when it is brought in.”