Firefighters battle massive blaze on US navy ship after explosion in San Diego

David Millward
·3 min read
Firefighting boats spray water onto the US Navy amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard as smoke rises from a fire - Bing Guan/Reuters
Firefighting boats spray water onto the US Navy amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard as smoke rises from a fire - Bing Guan/Reuters

Firefighters were battling a massive blaze on a US navy amphibious assault ship in San Diego, California, on Sunday night.  

The fire erupted after an explosion on the USS Bonhomme Richard shortly before 9am local time.

 Ariel photographs showed giant plumes of smoke billowing out from the ship, which was docked in its home port.  

The reasons for the blaze, which was caused by fuel catching fire, remained unclear. There was no suggestion of terrorism being involved.

Emergency services cleared the area as firefighters moved in to try to bring the fire under control.

According to the San Diego Fire Department, 17 sailors and four civilians required hospital treatment for minor injuries, including one for smoke inhalation.

Krishna Jackson, the base's public information officer, said none of the injuries was life-threatening.

Smoke rises from a fire on board the US Navy amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard - Bing Guan/Reuters
Smoke rises from a fire on board the US Navy amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard - Bing Guan/Reuters

Normally, as many as 1,000 crew would be on board the ship, but with the Bonhomme Richard undergoing maintenance, only around 160 people were on the ship at the time.

All were accounted for as were all the firefighters involved in tackling the blaze.  

San Diego Fire Department chief Colin Stowell said the explosion appeared to have emanated from a 55-gallon drum of oil that is used to clean tools.

“Right now, there is still a lot of fuel on that ship. And if that starts becoming part of the combustibles, then this will go on,” he told CNN.

Earlier, Chief Stowell voiced fears that the fire could go on for days and that the ship “could burn down to the water”.

On Twitter, the San Diego Fire Department said a neighbouring ship, the USS Fitzgerald, was also under threat because of the fire.

 It is understood there was no heavy ordnance such as mortars and machine guns on the ship at the time of the explosion.  

A Wasp Class Amphibious Assault vessel, the 840-foot long Bonhomme Richard was launched in March 1997 and commissioned by the US Navy in August the following year.  

Its prime task is to help land forces during an amphibious assault. It can also be used as a light-aircraft carrier.

It was deployed during the first Iraq war and, in April 2014, it participated in the air-sea rescue following the South Korean ferry disaster in which 4304 people died after the MV Sewol capsized.  

The Bonhomme Richard is the third US Navy ship to bear that name.  

The original ship’s title was derived from the frigate commanded by John Paul Jones, an officer in the American revolutionary war.  

He gave the ship a French title – which translates as Good Man Richard – as a tribute to Benjamin Franklin, the US ambassador to France at the time and author of “Poor Richard’s Almanac”.  

The second Bonhomme Richard was launched in April 1944. It was sponsored by Roberta McCain, the mother of former US senator and Republican presidential candidate John McCain.