Federal firefighters battling blaze on US Navy ship that could last for days

Taylor Martinez

Federal and Navy firefighters are continuing to battle a blaze aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard more than 15 hours after the fire first broke out Sunday morning.

There were 160 people on board the amphibious assault ship docked at the San Diego Naval Base in California when a fire started and there was an internal explosion around 8:30 a.m., said commander of Expeditionary Strike Group Three, Rear Adm. Philip Sobeck, in a press conference on Sunday night.

Naval Surface Forces, US Pacific Fleet tweeted Monday that 34 sailors and 23 civilians have been treated for minor injuries, including heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation. Five remain in the hospital in stable condition.

Everyone on board was accounted for, Sobeck told reporters. The ship, which has a crew of 1,000, was undergoing maintenance.

San Diego Fire Chief Colin Stowell told CNN’s Erica Hill that the USS Bonhomme Richard could burn for days “down to the water line” after an explosion on Sunday.

Stowell said “as soon as the personnel started getting off the ship, there was an explosion.”

“The Navy is the only one that will work from the pier side as well as the harbor PD on the fire boats, working from the water side to contain the heat of it,” according to Stowell.

As of 11:30 p.m. Sunday, defensive operations continued on the ship with two helicopters from the Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron Three providing water buckets to aid in the fight, according to a Naval Surfaces Forces tweet.

Flames are being fueled by office supplies and other items from the lower vehicle storage area where the fire started, Sobek said.

While investigators know where the fire started, they have not yet determined the cause of the fire. There was a report of an internal explosion caused by over-pressurization, Sobeck said.

A shelter in place was ordered Sunday evening for all non-responding personnel at the base to maintain an 1,800-yard safety perimeter as the firefight continues, Sobeck said.

Two other naval ships, the USS Fitzgerald and the USS Russell, had to move farther away because they were threatened by the burning Bonhomme Richard, a media update from the navy said Sunday afternoon. One moved around 1 p.m. and the second moved 30 minutes later.

Despite the damage, the ship has endured in the fire.

“We’re absolutely going to make sure it sails again,” Sobeck said, “Right now we’re going to fight the fire and then we’ll work on understanding what exactly happened to make sure she sails as best as possible in a very near time.”

The Bonhomme Richard is an amphibious assault ship designed to support Marine Corps operations. The ship can transport Marines and equipment of a Marine Expeditionary Unit and land them in hostile territory via landing craft or helicopters as well as provide air support by helicopters or attack aircraft.


This article has been updated 7/13 from its original post 7/12.

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