Nightmare Scenario Developing With Massive Blaze Aboard U.S. Navy Ship

A fire has raged now for two days aboard USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6), an amphibious naval assault ship carrying 1 million gallons of fuel that is getting hotter by the minute. The fire has reached temperatures of at least 1,000 degrees in some points, and a fire suppression system that could help battle the blaze is temporarily out of commission.

The ship is currently in a San Diego port, and if its flames aren't extinguished quickly enough, the fuel could ignite, creating a deadly environmental disaster, and perhaps putting the ship out of commission.

Though 160 sailors were aboard the ship when the fire began Sunday morning, more than 400 sailors have reportedly since boarded the vessel to fight the fire, working in rotating shifts of 15 minutes to avoid overexposure to the smoke and flames.

While sailors have doused the ship with water from the pier, tugboats have also blasted water from the sides with hoses, naval helicopters have dropped 415 buckets of water onto the ship and civilian San Diego fire units have assisted as well, writes ABC News.

A reported 34 sailors and 23 other personnel have been injured during the blaze. Most were treated for heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation, according to Navy Times, although five hospitalized individuals were and subsequently released.

The flames were noticed at 8:30 a.m. Sunday morning as the ship was in port undergoing maintenance and modernization to help the ship carry an F-35 fighter jet.

During maintenance, the ship's fire suppression system had been deactivated and large coils of cable wound through the ship's open doors and seal hatches, disabling two safeguards that might've prevented flames from spreading too quickly.

"The superstructure and the upper decks continue to burn and have sustained damage. The forward mast has collapsed, and the ship is listing. However, dewatering is in process and we're keeping a good balance," said Rear Admiral Philip Sobeck in comments made Monday morning.

Sobeck said the blaze may have started in a cargo hold containing various shipyard supplies such as drywall, cardboard boxes and rags. He estimated that the 1,000-degree flames hadn't yet burned through the two decks guarding the ship's surface from its massive fuel holdings.

If the fire continues into the week, he worries that the ship's hull will eventually split open, releasing the fuel and creating a deadly environmental disaster.

USS Bonhomme Richard fire
A fire continues to be fought into the evening on board USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) at Naval Base San Diego on July 12, 2020. Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Austin Haist/U.S. Navy/Getty

Sobeck says that currently, the smoke from the fire doesn't contain anything that might be toxic to the surrounding community.

"Right now, we're testing and we're checking everything that we know and we're well within EPA standards. As we continue to fight the fire, we remain conscious of concerns regarding the air and water quality, and we recommend following county advisories for safety out of an abundance of caution," Sobeck said.

Whenever the fire is extinguished, the Navy will have to decide whether to repair the vessel or take it entirely out of commission.

The Bonhomme Richard was commissioned in 1998. It is a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship.