Official: Firefighting System Was Inoperable on Navy Ship

SAN DIEGO (AP) -
Smoke rises from the USS Bonhomme Richard at Naval Base San Diego Sunday, July 12, 2020, in San Diego after an explosion and fire Sunday on board the ship at Naval Base San Diego. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

A fire suppression system was inoperable when a blaze erupted aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard in San Diego, so sailors fought the blaze with water, a top Navy official said Monday.

Rear Adm. Philip Sobeck said the Halon gas system had been turned off because it was being worked on while the amphibious assault ship was undergoing maintenance work.

The fire erupted Sunday morning and continues to burn. It broke out in a lower cargo area where cardboard and drywall supplies were stored, and firefighters initially fought it with water until they had to withdraw, Sobeck said. Halon is a liquefied compressed gas that disrupts the chemical process of a fire.

At least 57 people were treated for heat exhaustion, smoke inhalation and minor injuries. Five remained in hospitalized under observation.

Sobeck said fire had spread throughout the ship Monday. The flames were burning plastic, cabling and other material, but there was still a buffer of about two decks between the fire and fuel supplies.

“In the last 24 hours, 400 sailors have been on board that ship to make sure that, you know, we’re making every effort to save that ship,” said Sobeck, commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 3.

The fire sent acrid smoke billowing over San Diego, and local officials recommended people avoid exercising outdoors.

Firefighters attacked the flames inside the ship while firefighting vessels with water cannons directed streams of seawater into the ship and helicopters made water drops.