After four days, two explosions, US Navy warship fire extinguished

SAN DIEGO (AP) – A fire on the USS Bonhomme Richard at a San Diego naval base has been extinguished after a four-day battle against one of the worst infernos to rip through a United States (US) warship outside of combat in recent years, the Navy said on Thursday.

Rear Admiral Philip E Sobeck called the last 24 hours of the firefight aboard the amphibious assault ship “amazing,” with the fire reaching up to 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit in parts of the vessel.

The ship also shifted and tilted toward the pier late on Wednesday under the weight of the water that had been dumped on it, forcing a brief evacuation of sailors.

On Thursday, it listed in the opposite direction, but Sobeck, commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 3, said the ship was stable and “survivable,” though it will take time to assess the damage.

“The ship can be repaired, whether or not it will be repaired, that will be determined,” he said.

A helicopter from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 3 combats a fire aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) at Naval Base San Diego. PHOTO: AP

It could cost an estimated USD4 billion to replace the ship if it is deemed un-salvageable.

While the flames were out, the heat remained, so sailors were undertaking the “painstaking” process of inspecting every space to ensure there were no smouldering spots that could flare up on the 840-foot (255-metre) ship, Sobeck said. They also intended to carefully remove 1,500 bucket-loads of water dumped from helicopters to ensure the change in weight does not throw off the ship’s balance.

The Bonhomme Richard was nearing the end of a two-year upgrade estimated to cost USD250 million when the fire broke out on Sunday. About 160 sailors had moved on board, and all were safely evacuated.

The Navy investigation will examine various possibilities of what might have sparked the blaze in the ship’s lower storage area, where cardboard boxes, rags and other maintenance supplies were stored. It also will look at what caused the two explosions on board after the blaze was reported.