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17 sailors, four others injured in three-alarm fire aboard ship at Naval Base San Diego

Firefighting boats spray water onto the Navy assault ship Bonhomme Richard as smoke billows from the ship
In a still from KGTV-TV footage, smoke billows from the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard at Naval Base San Diego on Sunday.
(KGTV-TV Channel 10 San Diego)

A three-alarm fire on the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard in San Diego injured 17 sailors and four civilians Sunday morning, and multiple agencies battled the blaze throughout the day.

A spokesman for Navy Region Southwest said the cause and location of the blaze and the extent of damage were not known as of Sunday afternoon.

The 17 sailors and four civilians were sent to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, according to a statement from Naval Surface Forces in San Diego.

According to the Navy, 160 sailors were aboard Sunday morning. All sailors have been evacuated from the ship and are accounted for, the Navy said in a statement. In total, about 1,000 sailors are assigned to the 840-foot ship, a Naval Surface Forces spokesman said.

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Fumes and black, gray and white smoke continued to billow from the ship for hours Sunday at Naval Base San Diego. At least a dozen fire engines and trucks were seen near the pier with at least six ambulances staged inside. Many people gathered on the pedestrian bridge linking the “dry” side of the base — where many sailors live — to the “wet” side across Harbor Drive.

National City, just south of San Diego, issued an advisory around 2:30 p.m. Sunday urging residents to stay indoors because of potential negative health effects of the smoke plume.

The fire was reported shortly after 8:50 a.m., according to San Diego Fire-Rescue Department officials. The department said on Twitter that 150 firefighters were assigned to the blaze. A fire investigator also was dispatched.

San Diego Fire Chief Colin Stowell told CNN that all fire personnel immediately withdrew from the ship and a nearby pier was evacuated following an onboard explosion that was traced to a 55-gallon drum filled with a chemical used for cleaning tools. He said that explosive ordnance was on the ship and that firefighters had to be especially cautious.

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Stowell said the fire could burn for days.

All ships in port in San Diego have been directed to provide fire parties to assist in firefighting efforts, said Mike Raney, a Navy spokesman.

The cause of the fire is not known. People at the scene reported hearing an explosion.

Two other ships, the guided-missile destroyers Fitzgerald and Russell, were moored near the Bonhomme Richard but were moved early Sunday afternoon to berths farther from the burning vessel, Raney said in a statement.

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The ship was in dry dock at General Dynamics National Steel & Shipbuilding Co. in San Diego last year and has been undergoing further maintenance pierside at Naval Base San Diego. Its last deployment was in 2018.

Amphibious assault ships are used to deploy Marines in amphibious landings. The ships conduct flight operations with helicopters and jet aircraft, such as the AV-8B Harrier and its replacement, the F-35B Lightning.

While deployed, these ships carry more than 2,000 sailors and Marines.

Dyer writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Union-Tribune photojournalist Sam Hodgson contributed to this report.


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