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Fire aboard USS Bonhomme Richard doused after 4 days, but warship's future remains uncertain

The blaze has caused the warship extensive damage and authorities have no clue yet if the vessel could sail again
UPDATED JUL 17, 2020
USS Bomhomme Richard (Getty Images)
USS Bomhomme Richard (Getty Images)

The US Navy faced one of the worst fire disasters in its history as the USS Bonhomme Richard caught fire at its pier in San Diego where it was undergoing maintenance, on Sunday, July 12. The blaze was finally extinguished on Thursday, July 16, the Navy announced but by then the amphibious assault vessel might have already suffered irreparable damage. Rear Adm Philip Sobeck, who has been updating the news about the progress of the firefighting on the ageing ship, said the fate of Bonhomme is unclear at the moment. The damage caused to the ship has been extensive with big holes visible in its deck and superstructure taking a heavy hit. 

“We do not know the extent of the damage. It is too early to make any predictions or promises of what the future of the ship will be,” Sobeck, commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 3, was quoted as saying by USA Today. Forty sailors and nearly two dozen civilians suffered minor injuries in the incident, mainly from heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation. No Navy personnel were hospitalized. Sixty-three firefighters also suffered injuries but none were seriously hurt. 

The reason of the fire still not known

The reason for the fire continues to be unknown and Sobeck said a probe would not be launched till the crew members ensured that the ship had no hot spots. “We did not know the origin of the fire. We do not know the extent of the damage,” he said, adding: “It is too early to make any predictions or promises of what the future of the ship will be. We cannot make any conclusions until the investigation is complete.” According to a report in The Drive, loud blasts were heard from the ship but no one could not confirm what was causing them.

Sailors aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) converse about a fire aboard the ship at Naval Station San Diego, July 12, 2020. (Getty Images)

Personnel from the Navy as well as federal and local firefighting units worked tirelessly to douse the fire since its outbreak on Sunday. The fire reached a temperature of 1,000 degrees that forced the firefighters to work by turns as heat fatigue hit them. Besides spraying water on the ships from smaller vessels, helicopters were also brought in to pour 1,500 buckets of water on the burning ship’s deck to cool it so that the firefighters could wage their battle. 

According to experts, fires on shipboard take a long time to put out. According to maritime lawyer Rod Sullivan who has served in the navy, it is difficult to control fire on open deck spaces because of the uninterrupted supply of oxygen, Fox News reported. He pointed to a fire that broke out on a car-carrying cargo ship in Jacksonville, Florida, last month and raged for eight days. 

With the fire now getting doused, a question hangs over the fate of the ship that ferries Marines to battle. If the warship, which was commissioned in 1998, proves to be too costly to repair, the Navy would be in a spot. According to Todd Harrison, a military budget expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a new ship would take years to build and cost about $4 billion.