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 / Updated  / Source: NBC News
By William J. Gorta

A fire engulfed a tour bus Sunday in San Francisco, but tragedy was averted after two shopkeepers chased down the bus to alert the driver.

Witnesses told NBC News that fire erupted from beneath the engine in the rear of a double-decker Big Bus as the bus drove west on Haight Street about 10:30 a.m. (1:30 p.m. ET).

Senait Weldetensae said she ran about half a block from her store, Sunshine Liquors, trying to get the driver's attention.

"I had to run to get the driver's attention," she said. "He kept driving because he couldn't see."

She and Vasken Farajian, owner of Coffee Cantata, managed to catch the driver's eye and start unloading what Farajian estimated as 35 to 40 passengers.

Weldetensae said the crowd was "mostly older people," but all managed to debark safely.

"I was 'Come on, get out of here,' but they were slow to get off the bus," she said.

Farajian said that he called 911 but that in the seven minutes it took the fire department to respond, the engine became "completely on fire."

"Everybody got out safely, but the bus was completely lost," he said.

A tour bus carrying 35 to 40 people erupted into flames Sunday on Haight Street in San Francisco.@moizsyed / Twitter

Farajian said that the tour buses were old and noisy and that a company official told him they were planning to replace the fleet.

Big Bus Tours didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. A call placed to the San Francisco Fire Department wasn't immediately returned.

The Haight-Ashbury bus fire comes two weeks after 53 people had be evacuated from a tour bus in the desert in San Bernadino County, California, after flames erupted in the bus' rear engine.

The driver told investigators that he heard a noise and thought a rear tire had exploded but saw flames in the rear of the bus when he pulled over.