Fire-damaged ship in San Diego Harbor continues to smolder

SAN DIEGO -- A fire that tore through a docked commercial fishing and research ship Friday near Seaport Village will likely continue to burn into Saturday evening.

The blaze erupted for unknown reasons inside the 120-foot Norton Sound at about 9:30 a.m. Friday.

It was unclear if anyone was aboard the vessel when the fire broke out. Firefighters initially battled the flames from inside, finding no victims, but were ordered to pull out because of the intensity of the fire inside the boat after about a half-hour.

The fire seemed to mostly burn itself out, then flared up again later in the day. The interior of the vessel continued to burn throughout Friday and into early Saturday.

Firefighters stayed on scene all night to monitor the ship, rotating every three hours, according to San Diego Fire-Rescue Department spokesperson Monica Munoz.

Crews also checked the mooring lines every hour to ensure they did not burn, Munoz said.

The fire Saturday appeared to be localized in the bow of the vessel, she said.

Munoz said firefighters will continue to apply water to the outside of the hull to cool the vessel. Crews cannot enter the vessel until temperatures drop to a safe level. Thermal imaging showed temperatures of over 300 degrees Fahrenheit inside the vessel Saturday, Munoz said.

"When they apply water...to the outside, the water is boiling off, so it's pretty hot," said Steve Ricci, deputy chief of operations for the fire department. "We don't want to apply water to the inside because we don't want it to sink or roll over. If it sinks or rolls over, we are going to have an obvious environmental problem."

NRC, an environmental company contracted through the Coast Guard, placed a boom around the ship that can hold up to 50,000 gallons of hazardous materials.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, the vessel contained diesel fuel as well as fuel oil. The fire department said the ship has a 38,000-gallon fuel tank, but how much is inside is unclear.

Firefighters do not have an estimate on when the blaze will be put out, Munoz said. Two engine companies were at the scene Saturday afternoon, but this was scaled back to one engine company at 8 p.m. Saturday evening, she said. That engine company will continue to monitor the fire throughout the night.

The current owner of the ship has not been contacted, Munoz said.

One firefighter was taken to a hospital for treatment of heat exhaustion after battling the blaze late Friday morning, and was released about 5 p.m. the same day, Munoz said.