A fire aboard a docked U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship in San Diego's harbor continued for a second day Monday, had collapsed the vessel's forward mast and made some fear the ship may be too damaged to make it worth repair.
Rear Adm. Philip Sobeck, the commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 3, told a press conference that the fire aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard had reached 1,000 degrees and was threatening the control island where officers operate the vessel.
"There's obviously burn damage all the way through the skin of the ship, and we are assessing that as we kind of go through each compartment," Sobeck said. "Right now the priority is to get the fire out so that we can take a complete assessment."
The Bonhomme Richard is an 844-foot vessel, about 250 feet shorter than the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier, commissioned in 1998 and designed to launch and support amphibious landings. It carries hovercraft, mechanized landing craft and a variety of aircraft, from helicopters and tilt-rotor planes to Harriers and F-35s.
The fire started at about 8:30 a.m. Sunday, apparently following an explosion, while undergoing maintenance in an area below deck that was being used for building material storage such as drywall, scaffolding, and rags, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The Navy was "doing everything we can do" to save the ship, Sobeck said, but some feel it might be damaged beyond repair.
"You are losing one of the few platforms that you could use to fill in for a carrier in the Middle East when our attention is focused on the Pacific," the Journal quoted Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.
A fire suppression system that uses the liquified, compressed gas Halon to starve a blaze of oxygen had been disengaged while the ship was undergoing maintenance, a common practice.
The Associated Press quoted a retired Navy captain, who now teaches international maritime law at Fordham University, said officials might have "poor, or no, fire boundaries" aboard ship and did not adequately compensate for the Halon system being deactivated.
"This fire got to pretty much every space on the ship, and to exacerbate the problem, I keep getting signs that there were flammable substances in a lot of spaces — like gear from the shipyard, rags, and cloth," former Capt. Lawrence B. Brennan said. "Ship fires are often unfortunate but not catastrophic in most cases. They usually don't get out of control this badly."
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