Navy: Vacuum accident was likely culprit in submarine fire


A fire that severely damaged a nuclear submarine undergoing repairs at a Maine shipyard was apparently caused by an industrial vacuum cleaner that picked up a heat source and ignited some debris, the Navy said Friday.

The vacuum, described as a typical tool found at industrial shops, did not have any defects, according to a preliminary report sent to reporters by email. The fire occurred aboard the Miami on May 23 as the craft was being worked on at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Maine.

Since the fire, shipyards have been ordered to empty their industrial vacuum cleaners after each shift or remove them from ships, according to the announcement.


“Preliminary investigations indicate that the fire started with a heat source being vacuumed up and igniting the debris in the vacuum cleaner,” the military said. “Specific details and subsequent damage assessment are still being evaluated as part of ongoing investigations and will be released at a later date.”

Estimates of the damage run in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The fire damaged the torpedo room, crew quarters, and command and control areas in the front of the submarine, the Navy said. Seven people were hurt fighting the fire.

The nuclear components were never in danger, and there were no torpedoes on the craft.

The Miami arrived at Portsmouth in Kittery, Maine, in March for a 20-month overhaul.


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