USS Bonhomme Richard fire continues to rage even after 24 hours, nearly 60 injured

Navy authorities have conceded that the warship has suffered extensive damage in the blaze


                            USS Bonhomme Richard fire continues to rage even after 24 hours, nearly 60 injured
Sailors and federal firefighters fighting a fire on board USS Bonhomme Richard (Getty Images)
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The fire that broke out on board USS Bonhomme Richard has continued to rage even as firefighters and helicopters have tried to bring it under control. The fire on the warship, which has been docked at San Diego naval base, was first reported on Sunday (July 12) morning and nearly 60 people have been injured so far, including sailors numbering more than 30. The injuries, however, have been minor including heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation.

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On Monday, July 13, Rear Adm. Philip Sobeck told reporters that five personnel in the hospital remained in stable condition. The vessel has undergone severe damage and Navy authorities fear it could be well beyond repair. Sobeck, commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 3, said the fire erupted well below the deck and caused extreme heat, reaching as high as 1,000 degrees. The firefighters were working overtime to ensure that the flames did not reach the ship fuel tanks that contain a million gallons of petroleum. 

Sobeck though did not give any estimate of the timeline by which the flames would be put out. “We’ve been at it for over 24 hours now and we're going to get it until it’s done,” he said, adding that Richard’s superstructure and upper decks have been damaged severely and the forward mast had fallen. 

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In this US Navy released handout, Sailors assigned to USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) gather and inventory damage control equipment to provide support for firefighting efforts aboard the amphibious ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) July 12, 2020 in San Diego, California. (Getty Images)

The fire on the ship under maintenance began shortly after an explosion was heard but the reason is yet to be confirmed. 

When asked about the comment made by San Diego Fire Chief Colin Stowell who told CNN that the vessel could burn for days “down to the waterline”, Sobeck said 400 sailors are desperately trying to save the ship by being on its board for the last 24 hours. The firefighters are being assisted by the Navy’s Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron Three which is dropping water on the blazing ship to bring the temperature down. Squadron Commander Capt. Will Eastham said the squadron’s MH-60 Sea Hawk helicopters have poured 415 buckets of water on the vessel, CNN reported. 

One-hundred and sixty people were on board when the fire broke out. The sailors responded to the fire that started after the explosion around 8.30 am. The ship, aged over two decades, has a crew of 1,000.

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USS Bonhomme fire has raised serious safety questions

Two other warships -- USS Fitzgerald and USS Russell -- which were located near the ill-fated ship, were removed to safety but the challenges faced in extinguishing the fire on a ship anchored at a naval base has raised some serious questions. It has been asked if a fire could not be doused with the help of resources readily available at the Navy’s base, what would happen if a vessel with fueled vehicles aboard catches fire at sea.

USA Today cited Todd Harrison, an expert on military budgets at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington DC, to report that the cost of replacing USS Bonhomme Richard would be a whopping $4 billion and the rebuilding process would take years. “And it’s worth noting that despite the fact that the Navy calls it an amphibious assault ship, it’s really a small aircraft carrier,” Harrison was quoted as saying.

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