"It happened so fast we didn t have time to get scared, but we were pretty shook up," the country singer says

By Kay West
Updated March 07, 2012 06:00 PM
Credit: Mike Coppola/WireImage

Country musician Jerrod Niemann had a brush with death on Tuesday night.

The “Lover, Lover” singer, 32, performed at the Heart Strings for Hope benefit in Chattanooga, Tenn. where he and other stars raised $65,000 for charity on Tuesday night. But the drama happened after the show.

The singer, his band mates, father and uncle had to evacuate Niemann’s tour bus after his pal, country singer Lee Brice, warned them that they’d better get out.

“I smelled something when I got on the bus but I figured it was that smell a heater makes when it comes on,” Niemann tells PEOPLE. “Jon Stone, a songwriter who was with us because he wrote Lee Brice’s new song, said, ‘Dude, I think your bus is on fire.’ ”

I said, ‘No, that’s the heater.’ But he had been on Lee’s bus when it caught on fire just recently, so he was pretty adamant. He and Lee went outside and Lee came back on and said, ‘No dude, this bus is on fire! You need to get your stuff and get off now!’ ”

Indeed, the bus was on fire. Niemann posted a photo on Twitter of himself, Brice and a friend with the blazing bus in the background.

“We could see the fire moving up from the back corner of the bus, under the bus, and we were backing up, then the windshield blew out with a piece of blind stuck to it,” he says of those scary moments. “All the pressure built up and blew it out.”

In the end, Niemann says he’s happy to be alive.

“I’m just grateful to Jon and Lee for recognizing it, and so thankful that we weren t parked somewhere sleeping because we may not have smelled the smoke at all until it was too late,” he says. “It happened so fast we didn’t have time to get scared, but we were pretty shook up after.”

As for the bus, he’d only just started using it to see if he wanted to lease it for his tour.

“It used to belong to LeAnn Rimes and it was pretty luxe!” he says. “I’m glad I got to ride in it for one night at least.”