US Navy sailor is being investigated by NCIS for deliberately starting the fire aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard that gutted the $761million amphibious warship in July and left 68 firefighters injured
- USS Bonhomme Richard burst into flames on July 12 while docked in San Diego
- The inferno raged for more than four days and gutted 11 of the 14 decks
- Navy chiefs believe it may not be possible to salvage the $761 million ship
- On Wednesday ABC 10News reported investigators believe that it was arson
- Investigators have identified an unnamed sailor as an arson suspect
- At least 68 firefighters were treated for heat exhaustion and smoke inhalatio
Investigators looking into the July 12 fire that gutted a $761 million war ship in San Diego now believe the blaze may have been started deliberately by a US Navy sailor.
The unnamed sailor’s home has been searched, according to ABC 10News, based in the Californian city.
Multiple sources with close ties to Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) told the station that arson was now strongly suspected.
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service now suspects that arson could be to blame for the fire
The USS Bonhomme Richard burst in to flames on July 12 in San Diego harbor
Firefighters spent four days attacking the blaze before it was finally extinguished
Firefighting boats sprayed water onto the amphibious assault ship to try and quell the flames
On Tuesday, a Navy spokesperson told ABC 10News that NCIS requested help from the National Response Team for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) because the agency provides resources and expertise on complex, large-scale incidents like the massive ship fire.
The spokesperson would not comment on the possibility of an arson investigation.
‘The investigations are ongoing and there is nothing new to announce on their current status or findings,’ the spokesman said.
The fire onboard the docked ship blazed for four days, and sparked fears that it could have exploded or spilled up to a million gallons of fuel into the San Diego harbor.
Helicopters also dumped water onto the $761 million ship as part of the rescue effort
At least 68 firefighters suffered injuries during the four-day fight against the blaze
Day and night the rescuers doused the ship with water to try and extinguish the fire
The Navy has not yet decided whether it is worth renovating the ship, or whether it is more cost-effective to scrap it.
It could cost the military an estimated $4 billion to replace the ship, which is akin to a mini-aircraft carrier.
The Bonhomme Richard was undergoing maintenance when the fire was first reported in a lower cargo area, where seafaring tanks are parked.
More than 160 people had been aboard when the blaze erupted at 8:30am in the morning.
Around two hours after the fire began, an explosion 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 San Diego Fire-Rescue Department reported.
In total 68 people were injured while fighting the fire, mainly from heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation.
Officials originally believed the fire was started by drywall supplies in a storage area in the lower half of the ship, and accelerated by maintenance supplies such as cardboard boxes and rags.
Naval Sailors are seen putting on their protective gear as they respond to the fire in this US Navy handout photo provided Wednesday
Firefighters are pictured looking on, amid thick smoke, as the ship burns
Temperatures had reached up to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit in some parts of the ship, causing a forward mast to collapse and threatening the central control island where the captain operates the vessel.
Teams of sailors rotating on 15-minute firefighting shift patterns poured water onto the ship from the pier and from tugboats.
Helicopters have also dumped 1,200 buckets of water on the ship from above, allowing crews to move further on board to fight the blaze.
The fire raced along the ship’s ventilation and cables, causing it to traverse through the vessel.
Cables and duct work snaking through hatches as part of the ship’s maintenance fed the fire and later created barriers to sailors trying to fight it.
At least two of the ship’s Halon fire suppression systems – which could have extinguished the initial fire – were not able to be used.
One of the systems was deactivated while the ship was being worked on, and the other was not able to be launched because of the explosion.
Sailors enter the USS Bonhomme Richard to combat a fire aboard the amphibious assault ship
Teams of sailors rotated on 15-minute firefighting shift patterns to tackle the blaze
The Bonhomme Richard was capable of carrying more than 1,000 sailors, in addition to helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.
The cost of the ship has been estimated $761 million, according to the Federation of American Scientists.
The ship had been docked in the San Diego base to undergo routine maintenance between deployments when the fire broke out, Navy spokeswoman Krishna Jackson said at the time.
Jackson told the New York Times that the sailors assigned to the ship at the time were staying in Navy or private housing on shore and were not on board when the fire started.
A ‘duty section’ of sailors trained to fight fires were, however, of whom were first to respond.
The USS Bonhomme Richard has been home-ported at Naval Base San Diego since its last deployment in spring 2018, when it returned from a six-year port switch to Sasebo, Japan.
The keel for the Bonhomme Richard was laid down in 1995 and she was delivered to the Navy in 1998.
The Bonhomme Richard was undergoing maintenance when the fire erupted on July 12
Firefighting efforts have involved personnel from Naval Base San Diego (right) and the City of San Diego Fire Department (left), along with Harbor Police fire boats and fire teams from other ships, according to the Navy
USS Bonhomme Richard is seen ablaze on Sunday evening with a thick plume of smoke billowing into the sky