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Huge fire in Puyallup damages 28 school buses, with start of classes quickly approaching

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PUYALLUP, Wash. -- Less than two weeks before the start of the new school year, Puyallup School District officials are scrambling to come up with a plan to get kids to classrooms after a massive fire at the district garage damaged 28 school buses, including 20 brand new ones.

“There was fire all over the place; buses on fire,” said neighbor Hunter Cowan.

That’s why firefighters had quite the perimeter set up to keep people far enough away from the flames Wednesday.

You can see in this cell phone video (above) thick black smoke covering Puyallup sky, making it look like nighttime even though it was only 2 p.m.

“Explosions left and right, like buses were blowing up,” said Cowan.

About 70 people near the bus barn were evacuated, including 30 in the workshop. No one was injured, police said.

“He said, 'Mom, it’s like Armageddon black outside and the flames are leaping up higher than the trees. What do we do?'” Cowan said, referring to her son.

So Cowan raced home but was met by road closure signs around her neighborhood.

“Your worst nightmare as a parent is being away from your house and hearing there’s a huge fire next door and thinking your house is going to go and all of your children,” said Cowan.

The fire attack was twofold.

“We’re split between helping initial attack crews help control the fire and controlling some spot fires that were popping up to the south,” said Central Pierce Fire & Rescue's Brian Levings.

Central Pierce Fire crews worked to keep the flames from spreading despite windy and dry conditions.

“Somebody’s roof did catch, at least initial phase of a fire,” said Levings.

You can see the damage left behind.  Some 28 buses were charred, including 20 new ones being readied.

The barn housed plenty of flammables, making a source for the fire hard to figure out.

“There’s solvents and grease and other gasoline and flammable liquids in the maintenance area. What you hear was probably tires exploding also,” said Levings.

On Thursday, investigators will  search through the damage to try to pinpoint a cause.  The school district said in a statement it will have to figure out how to deal with the loss and how to use the remaining fleet to transport students safely.