USS Bonhomme Explosion & Fire Sends 21 to Hospital

Arnold & Itkin

A Sunday morning explosion and fire injured 21 people on board a ship at Naval Base San Diego. According to military officials, the incident started just before 9 a.m. on USS Bonhomme Richard. Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesman Mike Raney confirmed that 17 sailors and 4 civilians required hospitalization.

About the USS Bonhomme Richard Fire

The cause of the blaze is still under investigation. Initial reports revealed that it was in a lower vehicle storage area of the amphibious assault vessel. Rear Adm. Philip Sobeck confirmed that the fire wasn't fueled by oil or other chemicals. Instead, it was being fed by paper, rags, cloth, and other materials. Sobeck told the Union-Tribune that he believes a change in air pressure caused the explosion.

At the time of the incident, there was approximately 160 military personnel on the vessel. Typically, the ship has a crew of 1,000 and was undergoing maintenance. All crew members are accounted for, according to Admiral Mike Gilday, Chief of Naval Operations.

"We are grateful for the quick and immediate response of local, base, and shipboard firefighters aboard USS Bonhomme Richard," Gilday said.

As the vessel burned, the Navy moved two nearby ships, USS Fitzgerald and USS Russell, away from it. By 9:51 a.m., the incident became a three-alarm fire as more firefighters were called to the scene. Reports from the morning indicate that firefighters were expected to have a long battle with the blaze. As of Monday morning, firefighters are still working to control the situation, and experts have confirmed that the fire could last for days.

The USS Bonhomme Richard has been in service for 23 years. It is used to deploy and land helicopters, small boats, and other vehicles. Since the ship is older, officials worried about what would happen if the blaze reached the engine room and other tight spaces in the aging ship.

"The heat of a fire of this nature can warp the steel, and that can be a major problem for any ship," said Lawrence B. Brennan, a professor of admiralty at Fordham University. "On an older ship, it's even more of a problem."

However, the ship is expected to survive the incident and sail again.

"We're absolutely going to make sure it sails again," Sobeck confirmed. "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."

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