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Aircraft carrier fire kills one, injures seven

SAN DIEGO -- A crewman aboard the aircraft carrier USS Independence was killed and seven of his shipmates were injured in a fire Thursday off the Southern California coast.

The blaze broke out in an avionics oxygen equipment room on the ship's hanger deck about 1:45 a.m. as the Independence conducted training exercises at the start of a cruise to its new homeport in Japan.

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'The fire has been extinguished,' said Senior Chief Petty Officer Doug Gorham, spokesman for the Pacific Fleet's air forces in San Diego. 'Preliminary reports are that one sailor was killed and seven suffered minor smoke inhalation injuries.'

The name of the sailor killed was not released. Gorham said the injured sailors were treated and had returned to duty.

The cause of the fire was not known.

Gorham described the blaze as an 'alpha class' -- one that produces a white ash residue. He said the alpha designation was not a measure of the fire's severity.

The compartment where the fire started is primarily a storage room for empty oxygen bottles and parts for aircraft oxygen equipment. It is also used as a repair room for oxygen regulators used by pilots.

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The 1,100-foot long Independence left San Diego Monday with about 5, 000 crewmen to begin its voyage to Yokosuka, Japan, where it will become the Navy's 'forward-based' carrier in the Western Pacific, replacing the aging USS Midway.

Gorham said it was not known exactly where the Independence was when the fire broke out.

The ship, which took part in Operation Desert Shield and returned to San Diego in late December, was due to arrive in Japan Sept. 11.

'They'll be able to meet that committment,' Gorham said.

The Independence will meet the Midway at Hawaii's Pearl Harbor later this month for a formal changeover.

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