Twenty-nine Alcoa City Schools students are safe after their school bus erupted in flames on Monday morning.

The bus driver noticed the fire at the intersection of Duncan Station Road and Upton Street, according to Alcoa Fire Department spokesperson Darren Stinnett. 

“(You) hate to start a morning like that, but it turned out pretty well,” said Alcoa City Schools director Brian Bell.

There were students on the bus from Alcoa Elementary, Intermediate, Middle and High School.

Damien Cothern and Cesar Perez go to the Intermediate School, and they were sitting in the front seat of Alcoa City School Bus #47E on Monday morning. Both heard a loud 'pop' when the bus was driving down Center Street.

"It was loud enough for everyone on the bus to hear it. The bus driver heard it," said Damien.
"It sounded like a gunshot really," said Cesar.
The driver, who the students know as "Bud," pulled over and got the kids off the bus.
"I want to say thank you to Bud for keeping us safe," said Cesar.
"God bless you, Bud," said Damien.
Shortly after everyone was off the bus, it burst into flames.
"High flames. Black smoke. It was like the skeleton of the bus," said Kathleen Hardy-Cothern. She lives across the street from where the bus caught fire. She is also Damien's grandmother.
"As of last month I have three grandchildren on that bus. Can you imagine if they didn't make it off? Three out of my five grandchildren," said Hardy-Cothern.

About 15 minutes later another bus arrived to take the students to school. That's when Damien's and Cesar's mothers arrived.

"I was scared. I was really scared," said Amanda Cothern.

"When we got there and as I seen the bus I just kept thinking, 'What if my kid hadn't of got off there?' It was awful," said Amy Perez.

The fear both mothers felt for their own sons and everyone else on board is worsened by not knowing what caused the fire.

The school bus is owned by Rocky Top Tours LLC, which is based in Maryville.

The owner declined an interview.

The bus is inspected annually and was last checked in July of 2016, by the Tennessee Highway Patrol. It passed in all categories.

The Alcoa Police Department and the Tennessee Highway Patrol are investigating the fire.

Students and parents are shaken.

"I am scared to get back on a school bus," said Cesar.

"Me too," said Damien.

Their mothers say they will still have to ride the bus to school, but know it will take time for them to be comfortable.

The fears of all four are eased by their strong faith in, Bud, their bus driver.

"I trust Bud. He's a good bus driver because you can trust him with your kids life," said Perez.

"He will never know how thankful I am. I can't express how grateful I am," said Cothern.

“The bus driver handled it really well,” Bell said. “As soon as he realized there was a problem, he got kids off right away.

Authorities towed the burnt bus away once crews put the flames out. As of Monday morning, the bus was being investigated by multiple agencies.

Photo Gallery: Students escape Alcoa City Schools bus fire