An explosion caused a three-alarm fire at a San Diego naval base, which was concentrated aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard and has resulted in dozens being injured.
Several hours after the fire started, reporter Tim Arvier said that San Diego Fire Department Chief Colin Stowell said the ship would likely “burn down to the water.” According to reporter John Dissauer, the chief said, “This fire could go on for days.”
NAVY SHIP FIRE: Water-dropping helicopters circled Naval Base San Diego Monday morning as smoke rose from a fire on USS Bonhomme Richard for a second day.https://t.co/Ix8QYIixST pic.twitter.com/XxNHcexVZu
— FOX8 WGHP (@myfox8) July 13, 2020
According to the SDFD, the first alarm was called at 9 a.m. on July 12, a second alarm was called at 9:09 a.m. and the third alarm was called at 9:51 a.m. PDT. As of 9:30 a.m. PDT July 13, the fire has been burning for at least 24 hours.
The U.S. Naval Surface Forces initially announced on Twitter that 11 sailors had experienced minor injuries in relation to the incident, but otherwise, all crews were accounted for. An updated report noted that 34 sailors and 23 civilians had been hospitalized in the fire’s wake.
Krishna Jackson, the base’s spokeswoman, told Stars and Stripes that an estimated 200 sailors were aboard the ship when it caught fire and that the ship itself was undergoing routine maintenance when the fires started. The ship, also referred to as an “assault vessel,” acts as a vehicle to deploy and land helicopters, small boats and other water-related vessels.
The Fire Started with An Explosion July 12
— Craig Marolf (@CraigMarolf) July 12, 2020
Local TV station NBC-7 reporter Allison Ash noted that a “loud explosion” was heard from an “inferno” coming from the ship at around 10:51 a.m. PDT on July 12.
By about 11:05 a.m. PDT, firemen said they had located the fire, but had not extinguished it yet, instead requesting more water lines, according to fire radio transmissions. Another said they would need to start moving people back due to the fumes.
It is unclear what started the explosion. According to what one firefighter said on radio transmissions, an officer aboard the ship told him that there are no “heavy ordinance” (large firearms such as mortars and machine guns) above the ship, but only small arms (pistols, guns, etc.).
One firefighter seemed to indicate that the explosion came from the hatch. “The fire looks like it’s moving further to the bow and there’s a lot more smoke coming out of the hatch were the explosion started,” that firefighter said around noon over radio transmissions.
NBC San Diego assignment editor Bill Feather reported on Twitter that Rear Admiral Phillip Sobeck said the fire started in the lower cargo hold and that the earlier explosions were caused by a backdraft.
At One Point, Firefighters Were Forced to Evacuate the Ship As the Fire Worsened
— SDFD (@SDFD) July 12, 2020
“Our conditions are getting worse here and I’m going to start pulling people out. We’re going to wait until the sprinkler system is active and then put people back in,” one firefighter noted on radio transmissions.
“Conditions on my end are not getting any better and are looking a lot worse, so I’m looking to go defensive,” another firefighter replied.
Firefighters determined it would be best to pull everyone out at roughly 11:24 a.m. PDT and noted that a sprinkler/hose system would likely be ready by in half an hour.
“All units, we are going defensive. Start evacuating the ship,” SDFD announced over a loudspeaker.
The SDFD reported on Twitter that multiple agencies, including Federal Fire, reported to the scene.
“We have an explosion, we have no injuries at this time, right now we are taking all personnel and gear off the pier,” one firefighter reported on radio transmissions at roughly 11:38 a.m. PDT Five more ambulances were requested to the scene as firefighters cleared the pier.
Firefighters Received Reports From Sailors That The Fire May Have Reached Fuel
— Shark NewsWires (@SharkNewsWires) July 12, 2020
At around noon, a firefighter reported over radio transmissions that there was heavy smoke coming from the ship. “We’ve got heavy smoke and we’re no longer putting water in the hole because of the explosion,” a firefighter said over radio transmissions.
At 12:02 p.m. PDT, firefighters set up a continuous foam operation.
Half an hour later, a dispatcher noted over radio transmissions that, “Engine One reporting multiple sailors running from the ship reporting that the fire was getting in the fuel.”
“We had a mass of sailors run toward us when the smoke turned black and they said it had gotten into the fuel,” the firefighter from Engine One reported before mentioning that a broader area might need to be evacuated.
July 13 Is Day Two of Fighting the Billowing Smoke For Firefighters
— Sal Mercogliano 🚢⚓🧭🐪🚒 (@mercoglianos) July 13, 2020
As night fell on July 12, the “#shipfire” showed no signs of slowing down and people posted on Twitter that more explosions were heard.
Firefighters are still battling the smoke and some residents have posted images on Twitter of helicopters being used to drop water on the vessel.
Audra Stafford of the San Diego’s NBC station tweeted that she spoke to people as far as away as Escondido, San Marcos, Vista and Rancho Penasquitos said they could smell the smoke. The National Weather Service San Diego Station has confirmed that the smoke is far-reaching, explaining to residents via Twitter, “Noticing a fairly acrid smoke smell this morning? It’s likely related to the #shipfire aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard.”
The San Diego Naval Base released a statement via Facebook advising people that they are not accepting donations and warning people to be aware of scams offering to provide financial support for those impacted by the fire.