After more than four days of inferno aboard the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard, Navy officials said Thursday afternoon that “all known fires” have been extinguished on the amphib.
The ship’s fire was called away at 8:30 a.m. Sunday while it was in a San Diego shipyard being updated to carry F-35B jets.
Sailors aboard initially fought the blaze in a lower cargo hold but an unidentified explosion prompted their retreat.
At several times this week, the ship was ablaze from stem to stern, sending noxious black clouds of smoke into the Southern California sky and raising troubling concerns that the 1 million gallons of fuel on board would spark.
As recently as last night, firefighting crews had to be evacuated off the ship as it listed starboard.
At a press conference Thursday afternoon, Rear Adm. Philip Sobeck, the commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 3, said the list was due to all the water from the firefighting effort sloshing around in the ship’s depths.
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That effect had produced a port list Thursday, he said.
Sobeck added that “the ship is stable the way she’s sitting.”
All told, hundreds of sailors from warships across the San Diego waterfront fought the Bonhomme Richard fire.
Of those, 63 personnel — 40 sailors and 23 civilians — were treated for what the Navy dubbed minor injuries such as heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation.
No one remained hospitalized as of Thursday afternoon.
While the fires appear to be out, Sobeck said temperatures are still high in parts of the ship; the heat reached 1,200 degrees on the ship at one point.
“The flames are out, but the heat’s still there,” he said. “We’re going space by space as we speak, through every compartment, checking for hotspots.”
These photos from above the Bonhomme Richard have been circulating. A Navy official confirmed their authenticity. pic.twitter.com/o6xYZU9cpY
— Geoff Ziezulewicz (@JournoGeoffZ) July 14, 2020
While the superstructure was damaged and the forward mast collapsed, and with online images showing burnt holes in the flight deck, Sobeck said the deck underneath the superstructure is secure and the task of assessing the extent of the damage can now commence.
“Now that things are starting to cool off, we can assess what the real issues are,” he said.
While Sobeck had expressed optimism that Bonhomme Richard would sail again earlier in the week, he appeared to temper such optimism Thursday when asked about such prospects.
“The ship can be repaired,” he said. “Whether or not it will be repaired, that will be determined.”
The loss of Bonhomme Richard would impact the ability of the Navy to get the next-generation F-35B into some future fight, as only half of the service’s 10 big-deck amphibs can currently accommodate the jet.
Officials said several investigations into the fire will be launched and Sobeck noted that Naval Sea Systems Command and the Naval Safety Center will be among the sea service agencies looking into the massive mishap.
About Geoff Ziezulewicz
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.