Dozens injured as Navy ship USS Bonhomme Richard continues to burn in San Diego

By Jean Lotus
The 3-alarm fire began Sunday morning and has now burned for more than 24 hours. Photo by U.S. Naval Surface Forces
1 of 3 | The 3-alarm fire began Sunday morning and has now burned for more than 24 hours. Photo by U.S. Naval Surface Forces

July 13 (UPI) -- Dozens were injured as U.S. Navy and local firefighters continued to battle the blaze at docked amphibious assault ship the USS Bonhomme Richard in a San Diego harbor Monday.

Naval Surface Forces, US Pacific Fleet, reported 36 sailors and 23 civilians were treated for heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation with no personnel hospitalized, an increase of two sailors from a few hours earlier.

The three-alarm fire had burned for more than 24 hours as of Monday. About 160 people were on board around 8:30 a.m. Sunday when the fire broke out, followed by an internal explosion, said Rear Adm. Philip Sobeck, commander of Expeditionary Strike Group Three.

Sobeck said the ship was listing and that the superstructure and upper decks are damaged and a forward mast had collapsed. About 400 Navy and local first-responders were working on the fire, which burned at temperatures past 1,000 degrees, he said. Flames were caused by burning office supplies and other materials in the lower deck, he said.


The ship's fuel tanks are beneath two platforms, and not likely to be exposed to the heat, Sobeck said.

Several MH-60 Sea Hawk helicopters from the Navy's Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron Three dropped hundreds of buckets of water on the ship to cool it down, said squadron commander Capt. Will Eastham.

San Diego Fire Chief Colin Stowell hypothesized Monday that the ship could burn for days "down to the waterline."

Thick plumes of smoke in San Diego caused the National Weather Service to issue an air quality warning for towns of La Mesa, Kearny Mesa, San Marcos and Oceanside.

Cmdr. Chris Wright, head of the Response Department at the Coast Guard San Diego, said they are continuously assessing the "environmental sensitivities" of the evolving situation.

"The safety of first responders, protection of the marine environment and the uninterrupted flow of commerce remain the highest concerns to the Coast Guard," Wright said via Twitter. "Responders will continue to monitor and assess potential environmental concerns and adjust response actions to ensure the safety and security of the maritime public and the marine environment."

The ship was recently refurbished in a multiyear project that ended in May. The Bonhomme Richard is a Wasp-class Landing Helicopter Dock amphibious assault ship designed to deploy helicopters, landing craft, supplies and personnel. She is capable of carrying most of a Marine Expeditionary Unit.


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