Propane-fed flames turned a converted school bus into a blow torch late Friday afternoon in Brainerd and left two people with burn injuries.
Late Saturday morning the victims were identified as Leon, 61, and Sanddra Renner, 51, of Foley. They were in satisfactory condition Saturday morning at the Hennepin County Medical Center Burn Center.
A little before 5 p.m. Stephanie Mueller and Sarah Buchite, both working at Pet North in the Tyrol Hill Shopping Center, heard a loud boom.
"We were expecting to turnaround and see two cars had collided," Mueller said.
Instead they saw smoke blowing out the back of a school bus. The bus, converted into a recreational vehicle, appeared to have pulled off Washington Street just west of the Mississippi River bridge.
Mueller and Buchite saw a man go back to the rear of the bus. He pushed a livestock trailer carrying two horses away. And the smoking bus turned into a fireball.
"The whole thing was engulfed in flames in a matter of minutes," Mueller said.
Eight- to 10-foot flames shot straight out of the back of the bus where two 100-pound propane tanks stood upright near the rear exit door. A third propane tank, not readily visible through the windows, was nearby. Firefighters poured 1,401 gallons of water on the fire.
"The potential was there for a big explosion," said Kevin Stunek, Brainerd Fire Department battalion chief.
The victims were taken to St. Joseph's Medical Center and then transported to the Twin Cities, one by North Memorial Air Care and one by North Ambulance.
Merle Gallant, battalion fire chief, said the upright propane tank or tanks were venting out the back of the bus. He said a southerly wind helped fan a tunnel of flame through the bus and out the front windshield. If the propane tank had been turned so it vented into the neighboring tank instead of out the bus, it may have been a different story, Gallant said.
Gallant was just a few blocks away when the fire call came and could tell just by the roaring sound propane was involved as he arrived.
In no time flames were pouring out the bus windows. People in the Tyrol Hills Shopping Center ran to move vehicles out of the nearby parking area.
Once the burned hulk of the bus remained and the fire was extinguished, bunks were visible in the rear of the bus near the propane tanks.
Throughout it all two horses, one still wearing a saddle, stood calmly in the trailer, which bore Minnesota plates and a logo for Hubbard Holsteins from Milaca. The horses were later transported away from the scene.
Brainerd Police officers blocked off heavy traffic for a time on Washington Street at Chippewa Street and Fourth Street Northwest. If the tanks or vehicle had exploded, Gallant said it was difficult to say how wide an area may have been involved.
The Crow Wing County Sheriff's Department also assisted at the scene.
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