PortandTerminal.com, July 24, 2020
SAN DIEGO – The four-day fire that engulfed the Navy amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) has caused serious fire, smoke and water damage of 11 of the warship’s 14 decks.
Some decks are warped and bulging and, in some spaces, completely gutted, according to an email the Navy’s top admiral sent to other leaders Wednesday.
“The island is nearly gutted, as are sections of some of the decks below; some perhaps, nearly encompassing the 844 ft length and 106 ft beam of the ship,”
The email by Adm. Mike Gilday, chief of naval operations, describes the damage to the warship and the challenges firefighters and sailors encountered battling the blaze for more than 100 hours. Gilday toured the ship during a visit to Naval Base San Diego Friday.
“With the flight deck as a reference, I walked sections of the ship 5 levels below and had the opportunity to examine the superstructure,” Gilday wrote. “The island is nearly gutted, as are sections of some of the decks below; some perhaps, nearly encompassing the 844 ft length and 106 ft beam of the ship,” he wrote.
The island houses the ship’s bridge and air traffic control tower. Online photos showed its aluminum roof melted through in places.
“Sections of the flight deck are warped/bulging. The fire started in the lower vehicle storage area — 6 decks below the flight deck and near the middle of the ship — spreading aft, forward, and up,” Gilday wrote.
Images of the damage Bonhomme Richard sustained give a sense of how intense the fire that engulfed it was.
The blaze began around 8:30 a.m. July 12. It wasn’t declared extinguished until early in the afternoon July 16.
The ship, undergoing maintenance in San Diego, had about 160 sailors aboard at the time of the incident. Eighteen were sent to the hospital for non-life-threatening injuries.
During the first two days of the inferno, noxious smoke billowed out of the vessel and affected air quality throughout the region, from North County to Tijuana. It was especially prevalent in areas closest to the base, such as Barrio Logan and National City.
Temperatures inside the ship where the fire was most intense peaked around 1,200 degrees F, Gilday said Friday. These high temperatures hindered firefighting efforts while helicopters and tugboats continuously dumped and sprayed water onto the hull and flight deck to cool the inside of the ship so fire teams could access the fires.
At least two and possibly as many as five sailors from the ship tested positive for COVID-19 after fighting the fire onboard the USS Bonhomme Richard, the Navy said last Friday. During the height of the conflagration responding sailors routinely swapped and shared fire fighting equipment, such as masks and gloves according to witnesses.
The Navy in a separate announcement Wednesday said National Steel and Shipbuilding Company — commonly called “NASSCO” — was awarded a $10 million contract to clean up the fire-ravaged ship. The contract provides money for firefighting support, removing water from the ship and safety, in addition to cleanup.
It isn’t a new contract, but an addendum to the nearly $250 million contract NASSCO received in 2018 to overhaul and modernize the Bonhomme Richard so that it could deploy the Marine Corps’ version of the Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35B.
That work was near completion at the time of the blaze. Navy officials said Friday they were unsure if that work will continue.
The cause of the blaze is still not known. Three concurrent investigations are planned, Gilday said Friday.
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