At approximately 8:30 a.m. (PST) on Sunday, an explosion rocked the U.S. Navy ship USS Bonhomme Richard. Soon, Federal and Navy firefighters descended upon the massive amphibious assault ship, fighting the flames for more than 24 hours now in an effort to bring the blaze under control. Despite a number of injuries, no fatalities have been reported and the ship itself is said to be considered salvageable despite the extensive damage.
The ship, which was in port at Naval Base San Diego, was undergoing routine maintenance at the time of the fire, with 160 people on board. Everyone has since been accounted for, with all injuries listed as non-life threatening, and largely associated with smoke inhalation.
Here’s everything you need to know about the USS Bonhomme Richard, including what happened following the inciting explosion during the valiant effort to contain the blaze and prevent the fire from spreading from the Navy ship to others in port nearby.
What is the USS Bonhomme Richard?
The USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) is a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship that measures 844-feet long and 105-feet wide, making it not all that much smaller than America’s prized fleet of Nimitz-class aircraft carriers, which measure just shy of 1,100 feet overall. In fact, the USS Bonhomme Richard is only about ten feet short of France’s Charles de Gaulle nuclear powered aircraft carrier.
Despite its flat top and aesthetic similarity to an aircraft carrier, the role of an amphibious assault ship is (usually) different. These vessels specialize in deploying land and air elements of the U.S. Marine Corps, utilizing a combination of amphibious vehicles and helicopters to deploy almost the an entire Marine Expeditionary Unit from the deck and bowels of the ship.
In effect, whereas an aircraft carrier primarily offers power projection via sorties of ground attack and fighter aircraft, an amphibious assault ship projects its power close to enemy shores, where it serves as a launching bed for a full assault on hostile territory. Amphibious assault ships’ similarities to carriers, however, also allows these platforms to be utilized for some fighter missions, particularly the America-class amphibious assault vessels the Navy and Marine Corps are testing as a part of the their “lightning carrier” concept, launching and recovering short-take off, vertical landing F-35Bs from their decks.
Launched on March 14, 1997, the USS Bonhomme Richard is ported out of Naval Base San Diego and carries a crew compliment of over 1,000. It serves as the flag ship for Expeditionary Strike Group 3. It’s the third U.S. Navy ship to carry the name USS Bonhomme Richard, and its most recent deployment took place in 2018.
How did the fire start?
Thus far, there has been no clear answer as to what may have started the fire aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard, as the primary focus has been placed on getting the fire under control. A thorough investigation will almost certainly follow closely behind.
The ship itself was in port for routine maintenance, and depending on the nature of the service the vessel was undergoing, this may have led to the blaze.
At 8:30 a.m. federal and Navy firefighters responded to a request for assistance from the crew on board, and 30 minutes later, at 9 a.m., the San Diego Fire Department was contacted to assist.
— SDFD (@SDFD) July 12, 2020
By 1 p.m., the fire was still raging and concerns that other nearby vessels could be in danger prompted the Navy to move two Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers to another pier that was further away from the burning U.S. Navy ship. One of those destroyers, the USS Fitzgerald, was recently returned to service after nearly three years of repairs following a collision with a commercial ship off the coast of Japan in which seven Sailors died.
As of 6:49 a.m. on Monday, firefighting efforts remain ongoing. Firefighting crews are receiving support from aerial firefighting operations, with helicopters dropping buckets of water on the burning ship starting shortly after 1 a.m.
What happened to the crew?
Fortunately, the U.S. Navy ship was not at sea when the fire began, and had only a small crew on board during its maintenance cycle. By 12:15 p.m., all crew members and civilians aboard the vessel had been accounted for, with as many as 57 Sailors and civilians ultimately being treated for injuries that were largely attributed to heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation.
The remainder of the crew is accounted for. We are grateful for the quick and immediate response of local, base, and shipboard firefighters aboard BHR. Our thoughts and prayers are with our BHR Sailors, their families, and our emergency responders who continue to fight the fire.
— USNavyCNO (@USNavyCNO) July 12, 2020
Only five of those 57 remain hospitalized for further observation, but the Navy does not consider any of the injuries to be life threatening.