UPDATE (1:50 p.m.):
Lafayette Limo General Manager Amanda Florian says five buses were destroyed and another slightly damaged in the Dec. 30 fire.
That leaves the company with only three of its nine full-size buses in service, but Florian says the company has a total fleet of around 40 vehicles of varying sizes.
"So far, we're doing good. It's not necessarily the ideal time for it to happen, because obviously [Purdue University] students are returning next week," Florian says.
She says students and parents have been calling the company to find out whether there will be any service interruptions, which she does not think will happen.
Florian says the company will either add additional, smaller vehicles to runs to keep up with demand or will ask for help from existing partner companies -- especially some in Northern Indiana which help run routes to Chicago airports.
She adds it'll likely be awhile before all the large buses are replaced, because insurance only pays fair market value for lost property, not enough to replace the rolling stock with fresh-off-the-assembly-line models.
"It's not like we can go out and buy all brand-new vehicles," she says. "If we had to buy them new, we'd only be able to replace two."
Instead, she says she'll begin scouring the used bus market to try to find replacements that are of good enough quality and which have the amenities Lafayette Limo wishes to provide to passengers.
UPDATE (10:35 a.m.):
An Indiana Department of Homeland Security spokesman (whose department includes the State Fire Marshal's office) says no determinations have been made about possible criminality -- including arson -- because the fire investigation is still ongoing by the state agency.
An e-mail from IDHS Public Information Specialist Casey Kenworthy says, in part:
A fire under investigation is classified as undetermined until all sources of ignition but one are ruled out.
As a bit of background, IDHS fire investigators will classify a fire as one of several types:
- Undetermined – a fire may remain undetermined if there is too much damage to identify a cause, or if all other sources cannot be ruled out.
- Natural – started by lightning or some other natural phenomenon.
- Incendiary – this classification is used for all fires caused by human behavior, whether on purpose or accidental. Arson is a subset of incendiary, and is typically classified as such by prosecutors, rather than fire investigators.
Fire investigations can sometimes take weeks or months because insurance evaluators and fire officials will often try to find a mututally agreeable time to meet at the site of a blaze and do a joint investigation. As such, there's no timetable for findings being released in this case.
WBAA is still seeking comment from Lafayette Limo officials.
The Indiana State Fire Marshal's office has taken over investigation of a blaze which burned five buses belonging to West Lafayette-based transportation company Lafayette Limo.
The Wabash Township Fire Department was the first to arrive on scene just after 2 a.m. on December 30, and firefighters found four buses engulfed in flames, says Deputy Chief Jim Lewis. Soon, a fifth bus parked nearby also caught fire.
Lewis says the proximity of the buses to one another likely led to the quick spread of the flames. And he says that also might make an investigation into the fire's cause trickier.
"It's not easy because there's no way of telling whether there was an accelerant used because of all the diesel fuel that spilled," Lewis says.
A flyer included in a Friday morning press release offers a $5,000 reward for information relating to the case and uses the word "arson," but Lewis says he cannot confirm the case is being investigated as an arson.
He says the five lost vehicles represent nearly half of the company's fleet. Anyone with information on the case may call 1-800-382-4628.
WBAA has reached out to Lafayette Limo and the State Fire Marshal's office seeking interviews.
THIS STORY WILL BE UPDATED.