At least seventeen sailors and four civilians were hospitalized after an explosion erupted during a roaring blaze aboard a military assault ship at Naval Base San Diego Sunday morning, according to Naval Surface Forces.
Plumes of smoke arose from USS Bonhomme Richard as firefighters battled the three-alarm blaze on the 3400 block on Senn Street at about 8:30 a.m. The vessel is an amphibious assault ship homeported in San Diego, according to Krishna Jackson of Naval Base San Diego.
The fire was reported to have started in the lower cargo hold below some offices.
"It's a huge open area where you would store a lot of Marine equipment and everything else, that's where we believe it started," said Adm. Philip Sobeck, commander for the Expeditionary Strike Group 3. "I think they roughly have about 1 million gallons of fuel, well below where any heat source is."
The ship had undergone a regular maintenance cycle before the fire was reported, Jackson said. Crew members typically are aboard the ship on weekends, but there are fewer than there are on weekdays. The fleet has a crew size of about 1,000 members.
Federal firefighters requested assistance from the San Diego Fire Department at about 9 a.m. All SDFD personnel has been accounted for but at least 17 firefighters have been transported to area hospitals for evaluations, the department said.
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In-port ships have been contacted and directed to possibly assist with firefighting efforts, a Navy spokesperson said.
“Currently there are two firefighting teams fighting the fire aboard the ship,” said Federal Fire San Diego Division Chief Rob Bondurant. “Federal Fire is rotating their crews aboard the ship with U.S. Navy firefighting crews from the waterfront to fight the fire in order to, find the seat of the fire and extinguish it. Also, Navy Region Southwest tugs are also continuously combatting the fire from the bay.”
The injured sailors and civilians were hospitalized and treated for wounds that were described as non-life-threatening and all remain in stable condition, according to Naval Surface Forces.
About 160 sailors were aboard the ship at the time of the fire and the entire crew was able to disembark; each sailor was later accounted for, Naval Surface Forces said.
Due to the severe smoke, National City urged its residents to remain indoors in order to keep safe.
Adm. Mike Gilday, Chief of Naval Operations, said the Navy "suffered a terrible tragedy" because of the fire.
"We are grateful for the quick and immediate response of local, base, and shipboard firefighters aboard USS Bonhomme Richard," Adm. Gilday said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with our BHR Sailors, their families, and our emergency responders who continue to fight the fire. Godspeed."
An 1800-foot perimeter has been established around the Naval ship and the surrounding buildings. The San Diego Channel south of Coronado bridge is closed to all boating traffic.
It is unclear what sparked the fire.
No other information was available.
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