3rd Street tunnel closed: Car fire shuts down northbound tunnel

The school bus caught fire inside the 3rd Street tunnel. (Photo: Horace Holmes)

A school bus being towed through the 3rd Street tunnel caught fire Monday morning, snarling traffic and sending at least three people to the hospital with minor injuries.

Police and fire officials say the bus, which was being used by an unidentified branch of the military, was being towed on northbound I-395 through the tunnel when it caught fire at about 10 a.m.

Drivers who were caught in the tunnel during the fire describe a smoky scene in which everything "stopped" in the wake of the fire.

"We were entering the tunnel, and we heard a blast - "boom" - and everything stopped," Don Laricks, a firefighter from New Jersey, said.

No major injuries have been reported as a result of the accident or fire, officials say, and no one was on the bus at the time. Three people were taken to area hospitals with minor smoke inhalation injuries, though, fire officials say.

Scores of drivers were forced from their vehicles during the incident, though, and many had to abandon their cars temporarily and leave the tunnel on foot.

"They tried to get us turned around, but they couldn't get us out of the tunnel fast enough," Ronald Hester, who was driving in the tunnel at the time, said. "We had to lock the car and evacuate."

Deepthi Madhavaraptu, an ABC 7 viewer sent in, this video from inside the 3rd Street tunnel during the fire response.

At least 10 cars were abandoned inside the tunnel by drivers, but the fire was reportedly extinguished just before 11:30 a.m., the union says.

The southbound lanes opened a short time after the fire was put out, but it took crews several more hours to clean up damage in the northbound lanes, which opened at about 3 p.m.