A Winnipeg school bus driver is breathing a sigh of relief that no students were on board his bus when it went up in flames Friday, but says it was a close call.

Chris Franczyk, who drives a bus for Faith Academy Middle School on Jefferson Ave., said he had left the bus parked with the engine running near the school to warm up before driving 40 grade eight students to a field trip.

Franczyk said a neighbour nearby came into the school saying smoke was coming from the bus.

Franczyk said when he got outside, the front engine was engulfed in flames.

The students were just minutes away from boarding it to see the Christmas presentation of Bethlehem Live.

school bus fire

Faith Academy Middle School bus driver Chris Franczyk was shocked Friday when his bus went up in flames just moments before 40 grade eight students were to board to go on a field trip. (John Bronevitch/CBC)

"It's incredible that something like this could happen," he told CBC. "I mean, never did I ever think in my wildest dreams that one of our vehicles would actually literally go up in flames."​

Franczyk said he was also relieved it didn't happen while he was transporting students during the morning or afternoon drive.

"I am just thankful that it didn't happen en route," he said. "I am thankful it didn't happen when we were taking our kids home from school today. That would have been worse."​

He said the bus is a model from 2008 and was regularly serviced.

It was last checked in August and was up again for inspection in February.​