Image 01 Image 03

1,000-Degree Fire Burns Aboard USS Bonhomme Richard at Naval Base San Diego

1,000-Degree Fire Burns Aboard USS Bonhomme Richard at Naval Base San Diego

Rear Adm. Philip Sobeck: “400 sailors have been on board that ship to make sure that… we make every effort to save that ship.”

Four hundred members of the US Navy are struggling valiantly to put out the 1000 degree fire burning aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard in San Diego, and officials are not sure when they will be able to put out the blaze.

The fire has brought down the amphibious assault ship’s forward mast and caused other damage to the ship’s superstructure that rises above its flight deck.

“There is a tremendous amount of heat underneath and that’s where it’s — it’s flashing up — also forward, closer to the bow again there’s a heat source and we’re trying to get to that as well,” Rear Adm. Philip Sobeck, the commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 3 said at a news conference Monday in San Diego.

The fire began where construction supplies were kept. The incident has led to the injury of over 50 personnel.

The fire began shortly before 9 a.m. Sunday in a part of the vessel where cardboard and drywall supplies are kept, according to the Navy and the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department. After about 90 minutes, authorities decided to remove all firefighters from the vessel for safety reasons and battle the blaze by remote means, including water dropped from helicopters and sprayed onto the ship via firefighting boats surrounding it on the bay.

About two hours after the fire began, a blast of unknown origin shook the vessel.

“None of the (SDFRD) firefighters were on board the ship when the explosion happened, but the blast threw several firefighters off their feet,” the city department reported.

A total of 57 crew members battling the blaze have suffered various injuries, mostly heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation, according to Navy officials. Five have been hospitalized in stable condition.

Meanwhile, acrid smoke from the blaze wafted across San Diego, and health officials urged people to stay indoors if they smelled it.

The fire that erupted Sunday morning is one of the Navy’s worst shipyard fires in recent years. At least 57 people have been treated for heat exhaustion, smoke inhalation and minor injuries. Five remained hospitalized under observation.

Rear Adm. Philip Sobeck said fire temperatures had reached up to 1,000 degrees, causing the mast to collapse and threatening the central

Sobeck said it was too soon to give up on saving the 23-year-old amphibious assault ship, which has been docked in San Diego since 2018 undergoing maintenance.

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


Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.


stevewhitemd | July 14, 2020 at 9:41 am

Good golly. Fair chance the ship will have to be written off much as USS Miami was a few years back. What a shame.

    snopercod in reply to stevewhitemd. | July 14, 2020 at 10:44 am

    I think you’re right. Heat damage…smoke damage…water damage. She’s done for. My guess is that some welder dropped hot slag onto the “construction supplies” below. They’re supposed to tarp off the welding area with fire-proof blankets, but I’ll bet they didn’t.

      Tom Servo in reply to snopercod. | July 14, 2020 at 1:06 pm

      agree that the ship is lost – saw that the forward mast has now collapsed, which means everything underneath it has been destroyed and hollowed out – and that’s the heart of the ship. The control centers, the communications equipment – all of that is now gone.

    The fire control system was off for maintenance. Imagine?

I’m not Navy, and in fact live about as far from the ocean as you can get, but my first impression when I saw this fire was ‘I hope they flooded the magazines.’ Now that it’s burning 24 hours later, I’d put the odds of it ever going back into service again at 0% so I hope one of the new amphibious assault ships coming online in the next few years picks up the name.

My bet is it was an American Navy Terrorist…

Someone “woke”???

    Paul in reply to gonzotx. | July 14, 2020 at 10:16 am

    That was the first thing that came to my mind also. The saboteurs are out in the open throughout our society now, why not in the armed services too?

@georgfelis: The ship was in the yards, so they wouldn’t have had any munitions on board other than possibly some small arms for security.

@gonzotx: The fire started in a storage room with cardboard and drywall. The odds are it started because someone was in there smoking and threw a butt in a bad spot.

It’s a pretty typical situation. I spent a year in the security department of a ship in the yards and our patrolmen spent the majority of their time chasing yard workers out of spaces they weren’t supposed to be in; the most common activities in those spaces were (in this order) smoking, sleeping, and just hiding out to avoid work in general.

I’m not ruling out the possibility of arson…sometimes sailors being driven hard during long yard periods…especially right at the end when they’re pushing to get everything done on schedule…can get pretty squirrely (It’s less common for yard workers to crack because they’re civilians and typically union so they don’t fall under the “work until the job is done or you drop from exhaustion” policy of the military).

But the safest bet is just someone being careless while taking an elicit smoke break.

I never cruised on the “Bonnie Dick”, but I knew people who had. It’ll be sad if they write her off…not to mention a terrible waste of taxpayer dollars.

Oh, it’s also a possibility that it was “hot work” (welding or cutting) done with insufficient or ineffective fire watches. That happens too.

There are a lot of other possibilities too, but the above are probably the most common causes of shipboard fires.

    Back a few decades ago I was stationed on a ship that was undergoing retrofitting in Boston Harbor. Around lunchtime a workman with a torch set off a fire with some nearby oily rags. Exciting times.

With a fire like this, the crew was “lucky” it happened in port and not at sea. That would have been very ugly.

And an update: based on some other information I’m getting, it looks like the Bonnie Dick is a total loss. In fact, from what I’m hearing, the challenge is no longer about saving the ship, but preventing it from sinking right there by the pier.

    alohahola in reply to Sailorcurt. | July 14, 2020 at 12:19 pm

    Sounds like it is an environmental disaster, too

    Our first submersible aircraft carrier? (Hey, somebody had to say it.)

      Tom Servo in reply to georgfelis. | July 14, 2020 at 1:07 pm

      You wonder – at what point do you simply attach a tow line to it and pull it out to deep water?

        Sanddog in reply to Tom Servo. | July 14, 2020 at 2:17 pm

        That was my initial thought. It started in the lower cargo hold, the halon system was deactivated… just town that sucker out and sink it.

        Never, because it’s full of gas and oil, and other nasty things that will come floating out of the sunken wreck. Now if there were some way to ‘dunk’ the ship, drop it underwater for about a half-hour and bring it back up… well, that would destroy any of the surviving electronics with saltwater I suppose, but at least it would be out.

          rabidfox in reply to georgfelis. | July 14, 2020 at 3:43 pm

          It’s in port – it should be FULL of gas and oil. And I wonder how much of that fire – not to mention the explosion – is a result of gas/oil already on fire. In any event, pulling the vessel out to sea would still be a good idea. In my opinion. I’m no expert but dealing with a burning hulk in a port sounds like a worse case scenario to me.

          rabidfox in reply to georgfelis. | July 14, 2020 at 3:44 pm

          Should NOT be full of gas/oil, Miss typed ‘should’ for ‘shouldn’t’

      gospace in reply to georgfelis. | July 15, 2020 at 11:52 am

      Actually, there have been submarine aircraft carriers. One of those little known oddities because they weren’t very effective. Some things just shouldn’t be mixed….

    NavyMustang in reply to Sailorcurt. | July 14, 2020 at 2:51 pm

    Rest in peace.

Cardboard and drywall doesn’t get that hot, nor does it explode. If there are no munitions on board, what the heck is fueling that fire?

Why couldn’t the fire be starved of oxygen by closing bulkheads and stopping its spread? Again, that kind of fuel shouldn’t be burning through steel floors to get to other decks.

    rabidfox in reply to randian. | July 14, 2020 at 3:45 pm

    Might this be an aluminum fire? I remember some of the British ships at the Faulknerian Island war were aluminum and went up rather catastrophically.

    Actually, cardboard ignites at 480 degrees but can burn at up to about 1500 degrees at the center.

    Then that can get other things in the area that burn even hotter going and it doesn’t take long before you’ve got a fire hot enough to burn through the bulkheads and even decks.

    Most compartments on a ship have conduits and pipes running through them that carry anything from fresh and waste water to various types of fuel. All of that piping is wrapped with asbestos or other fire retardant material to help prevent fire from breaching it, but when a ship is in the yards for maintenance and overhaul, many of those pipes are exposed for inspection and rework and would be susceptible to heating.

    There are plenty of things on board ships that can cause explosions that have nothing to do with munitions.

    Even just having fires in closed compartments can cause explosion like reactions under the right circumstances. Below decks compartments on board ships are water tight when the hatches are dogged. That means they are pretty close to air tight too. If a fire in a closed compartment gets really hot before starting to run out of oxygen, it can smolder at a high temp for a long time. If the compartment is then opened and air rushes in, it can react very much like an explosion, which can then cause an actual explosion if the resulting flames engulf flammable materials like fuels, solvents or oils…which are pretty commonplace on board ships.

    And, as someone else mentioned, when a ship is in the yards for maintenance and overhaul, often critical systems like fire suppression and ventilation are disabled, hampering the ability of the crew to effectively combat the fire…which is very likely why they evacuated the crew at first rather than keep them on board to fight the fire. Since the USS Forrestal in the late 60’s, every Navy crewmember is required to get qualified in damage control and firefighting. At sea, we are all the fire department. Considering that everyone there should have at least a modicum of ability to fight the fire, the only reason I can think of to evacuate them is if they flat didn’t have anything to fight the fire with…which would also go a long way to explaining how it got so far out of control. Purely speculation at this point, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all to find out that’s the case.

Starting a fire is one thing. Not being able to put it out is another. A graphite fire in a reactor core can be almost impossible to put out, but that’s not the situation here.

texansamurai | July 14, 2020 at 3:17 pm

1,000 degrees or more?–maybe avgas?–it burns about 1,300 or so as remember–are they provisioned with fuel for the birds in port?–during a refit/maintenance gig?–might account for the temp and the explosion(s)

    They keep saying 1000 degrees like that’s hot for a fire.

    Wood burns at around 1500 degrees in the center. Your fireplace will be 600 to 800 degrees at the edges of the flames.

    Start throwing in accelerants and flammables that burn at high temps and you can pretty quickly end up with a fire that will melt steel. That happens at around 2600 degrees or so.

    I’d bet the fire on that ship is, or at least has been, hotter than that.

According to the SD Union-Tribune, there’s 1 million gallons of fuel on it, but they’ve kept the fires away from that part of the ship.

On USS Midway off the coast of Vietnam it was a little unnerving to hear “Away the Flying Squad! Smoke in Aft Fuel Compartment!”


Sailorcurt is on the money, folks.

When there’s yardwork afoot some systems may be disabled, some spaces may have been made unable to be watertight, some dampers may have been locked open. For that reason yard fires can be exceptionally hard to fight if they get past incipient stage.

I was stationed on the George Washington back in the day and we had the Kearsarge catch on fire in drydock. Almost the exact same deal. Since we were docked in the pier adjacent to the drydock, they had to borrow our personnel and gear for firefighting as most firefighting systems on board require sea water to operate. By the time we got her put out, her flight deck was warped and their drydock stay was extended for a year.

As far as the million gallons of fuel: Fuel is stored low and the lines that run topside are purged after use. The fire is miles away from it. In addition, the navy uses JP-5, which, as it is a form of diesel, is resistant to combustion from temperature.

Tom: navy runs pressurized water reactors only. The only things that we run into that can’t be handled easily are magnesium fires on aircraft. If an aircraft sparks up, they get the deep six.

As it’s sinking, name it the USS Obama.

As several people have speculated- it is fact. The fire main was down. With the fire main down, no AFFF- aqueous fire fighting foam – which would probably have put a quick end to it.

Portable fire extinguishers are the first ones on scene in any fire. IIRC, the rule was, if the first 3 expended didn’t extinguish the fire- you had a problem on your hands. In my limited experience, the first one usually was enough.