Massive Fire Aboard USS Bonhomme Richard In San Diego. Superstructure Collapses, Ship Listing. May Be Lost.

Photos shared on social media on both Sunday Jul 12 and early Monday morning Jul. 13 showed the fire spreading to the superstructure. (Photo: US Naval Institute and via Twitter from Matt Haskell)

Fire in San Diego burns through night sends 21 to hospital.

Fire erupted aboard the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) on Sunday morning, July 12, 2020, as the ship lay moored at Naval Base San Diego. There are reports of 21 injured, including 17 sailors and 4 civilians. The 21 injuries were reported as non-life threatening and all victims are in stable condition at area hospitals. No cause of the fire has been determined as the blaze continues.

Reports early Monday morning suggested the ship may not be salvaged as the fire spreads to the ship’s superstructure and helicopters began making water drops on the fire.

The fire aboard the Bonhomme Richard began before 8:50 AM Sunday morning local time in San Diego between Coronado Island and the city of San Diego near the Coronado Bay Bridge. The first report of fire reached authorities at 8:50 AM. Fire boats could be seen battling the blaze as massive smoke plumes spread over the city. Some witnesses did report an explosion before the fire began, although the U.S. Navy told media there was no explosion on board the ship and the noise was caused by a “change in air pressure”.

There is no live ammunition currently onboard the USS Bonhomme Richard as she undergoes maintenance. There is a million gallons of fuel oil onboard the ship, but the Navy says the fuel is in no danger of igniting from the blaze.

Photo published by Sean M. Haffey of Getty Images of the USS Bonhomme Richard burning in San Diego Harbor.
(Photo: Getty Images by Sean M. Haffey)

U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Philip Sobeck, commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 3, told reporters in a story published by the San Diego Union Tribune that, “The Navy believes the fire began in a lower cargo hold, a deep V area, where marine equipment and vehicles are stored”.

San Diego Fire Chief Colin Stowell texted that the Navy would have contingencies in place to bring the fire onboard under control, but Stowell was also quoted by CNN as saying the ship could, “Burn for days”. Other news outlets reported that “significant progress” had been made fighting the fire, with firefighters reported back on board the ship as they continued to battle flames, although this news seemed unlikely as the fire intensified into Monday morning.

New photos and video surfaced Sunday night on Twitter however, showing flames spreading to the ship’s island and bridge as the fire appears to actually be growing. The ship is also reported as listing according to Twitter reports from naval expert Sal Mercogliano (@mercoglianos). Some observers on Twitter have begun to question if the ship can be saved as the blaze continues to spread.

A story filed by reporter Andrew Dyer of the San Diego Tribune quoted Rear Adm. Sobeck as saying, “The fire was not fueled by fuel oil, hazardous materials or electrical causes. It is a Class Alpha fire.” This means the fire began when paper, cloth, rags or other non-toxic materials ignited onboard. There were 160 U.S. Navy and civilians onboard the Bonhomme Richard on Sunday morning when the fire began. All uninjured personnel were evacuated to safety from the ship.

As the fire grew, two ships moored nearby the USS Bonhomme Richard, the USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) and the USS Russell (DDG-59), both Arleigh Burke class destroyers, went underway to docking areas farther from the burning ship as a precaution.

The USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) is the third U.S. Navy ship to carry the name of the famed frigate originally commanded by John Paul Jones in 1779. The ship’s name is a reference to U.S. founding father Benjamin Franklin, and is taken from Franklin’s then-popular publication “Poor Richard’s Almanac”.

File photo published of the USS Bonhomme Richard taken in January 2003. (Photo: U.S. Navy by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Jennifer Swader)

The mission of the USS Bonhomme Richard is to deploy and support U.S. Marine assault forces and to act as an aircraft carrier for STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) combat aircraft such as the AV-8B Harrier and the new F-35B Lightning II. She was commissioned in August 1998 and has had a good safety and operational record, winning the Chief of Naval Operations Safety Award in 1999, 2000 and 2001.

The primary mission of Bonhomme Richard is to embark, deploy and land elements of a Marine landing force in amphibious assault operations by helicopter, landing craft and amphibious vehicle, and if needed, to act as a light aircraft carrier.



About Tom Demerly 461 Articles
Tom Demerly is a feature writer, journalist, photographer and editorialist who has written articles that are published around the world on TheAviationist.com, TACAIRNET.com, Outside magazine, Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, The Dearborn Press & Guide, National Interest, Russia’s government media outlet Sputnik, and many other publications. Demerly studied journalism at Henry Ford College in Dearborn, Michigan. Tom Demerly served in an intelligence gathering unit as a member of the U.S. Army and Michigan National Guard. His military experience includes being Honor Graduate from the U.S. Army Infantry School at Ft. Benning, Georgia (Cycle C-6-1) and as a Scout Observer in a reconnaissance unit, Company “F”, 425th INF (RANGER/AIRBORNE), Long Range Surveillance Unit (LRSU). Demerly is an experienced parachutist, holds advanced SCUBA certifications, has climbed the highest mountains on three continents and visited all seven continents and has flown several types of light aircraft.