All known fires extinguished on USS Bonhomme Richard

A fire that reached 1,200 degrees had raged for four days on the ship.

July 16, 2020, 8:12 PM

The Navy says that all known fires aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard have been extinguished, four days after the start of a raging blaze that has left in doubt whether the amphibious assault ship can remain in service.

"It is four days and -- looking at the clock now -- three hours to finally say that we've extinguished all known fires on on board the USS Bonhomme Richard," Rear Adm. Philip Sobeck, the commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 3, told reporters Thursday afternoon.

"Our fire teams are investigating every space to verify the absence of fire," said Sobeck in a statement. "Until every space is checked and there are no active fires we will not be able to commence any official investigations."

The admiral said that the origin of the fire remains unknown as is the extent of the damage inside the ship.

PHOTO: The American flag flies aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) as damage control efforts continue aboard the ship.
The American flag flies aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) as damage control efforts continue aboard the ship.
Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Brandie Nuzzi/U.S. Navy

"We do not know the extent of the damage. It is too early to make any predictions or promises of what the future of the ship will be," said Sobeck. "We cannot make any conclusions until the investigation is complete."

Overnight, hundreds of Navy and federal fighters were temporarily evacuated from the ship after it was determined that the ship was listing too much. The addition of water to put out the fires on the inside of the ship have created extra weight that made the ship list by 5 degrees.

With the fires now out, the Navy plans to pump out the remaining water in the ship, said Navy officials.

Earlier in the week the fire that had raged atop the flight deck brought down one of the ship's two masts that hold its radar and communications equipment.

Photos that have emerged on social media show the ship's massive hangar bay has been gutted and burnt as a fire that at times reached 1,200 degrees raged throughout the ship's interior. Those temperatures have been brought down to as low as 125 degrees, according to Sobeck, who said it will be possible to salvage the ship.

"It's there, it's survived, it's proven it's survived, and it's in stable condition all the way through," Sobeck said in a press conference Thursday afternoon.

PHOTO: Sailors prepare to board the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) to fight an ongoing fire at Naval Base in San Diego, Calif. on Tuesday, July 14, 2020.
Sailors prepare to board the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) to fight an ongoing fire at Naval Base in San Diego, Calif. on Tuesday, July 14, 2020.
Mass Communications Specialist 3rd Class Jason Waite/U.S. Navy via AP

But he made clear to distinguish between possibly being saved and definitely being saved.

"The ship can be repaired," Sobeck said. "Whether or not it will be repaired will be determined."

Defense officials told ABC News that a Navy damage assessment team will help inform decisions about the ship's future. One official told ABC News that after the assessment is completed, "some hard decisions will have to be made" about whether the ship can remain operational.

While there has been damage throughout most of the ship, the main engineering areas remained untouched, a factor that could impact decisions about the ship's viability.

Navy helicopters carried out more than 1,500 water bucket drops and tug boats sprayed water on the ship's side to cool down its hull as fires raged below deck.

Sixty-three personnel, including 40 sailors and 23 civilians, were treated for minor injuries such as heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation. None of them remain hospitalized.

PHOTO: Federal firefighters assess damage in the hangar bay aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6), July 15, 2020.
Federal firefighters assess damage in the hangar bay aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6), July 15, 2020.
Mc2 Natalie M. Byers/U.S. Navy

Most of the 1,000-strong crew of the Bonhomme Richard were off the ship as it underwent maintenance when it caught fire and suffered two explosions. About two-thirds of the maintenance was done at that point, and some personnel and gear had been moved back on the ship.

One hundred and sixty crew members were on board and evacuated at the time. They and their shipmates are now "on one of our bases being taken care of," said Capt. Mark Nieswiadomy, Naval Base San Diego commander.

Sobeck said that sailors had recently undergone training for ship fires, and shared several anecdotes of heroism from the effort to save the Bonhomme Richard; "brave sailor stories," he called them.

One involved Damage Controlman 2nd Class Jeffrey Garvin, a Navy fire marshal who was on scene at the first reports of black smoke coming from the ship.

Sobeck said the man was on board during the first explosion, and was sent to the hospital to be assessed. After being cleared he returned to the ship in time for the second blast.

"He went rushing to the fire," Sobeck said. "Since then he's been on every site every day, to include two explosions. He had to go to the hospital to get treated, concussion protocols, was fit for duty, went back. And when the secondary explosion happened, the same thing basically happened again. He went through concussion protocols, came back."

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