Blaze engulfs ship in San Diego Harbor

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SAN DIEGO -- Flames continued to smolder in the overnight hours Friday, giving off an eerie glow. The remanence of a massive fire that tore through a docked commercial fishing and research ship near Seaport Village Friday, posing a challenging daylong firefight for emergency personnel unable to safely brave the furnace-like innards of the burning vessel.

The blaze erupted inside the 120-foot Norton Sound about 9:30 a.m., sending thick plumes of dark-gray smoke billowing over San Diego Bay, according to the city Fire-Rescue Department.

"Steel softens and you certainly don't want firefighters in there on a soft steel floor that could give way," said Chief Brian Fennessy.

The US Coast Guard believes most of the oil burned up in the initial flames. They laid out booms which will help to soak up any more oil that floats to the surface. They believe the ship could burn for another 24 hours but are monitoring it at all hours.

It was unclear if anyone was aboard the vessel when the blaze broke out for unknown reasons. Firefighters initially battled the intense flames from inside, finding no victims, but were ordered to pull out for safety reasons after about a half-hour.

One firefighter was treated for heat exhaustion.

"There's some evidence that somebody may have been on board," Chris Webber, assistant chief of emergency operations for the fire department. "We've done searches of the areas we can get to and haven't found anybody. Typically, people are able to remove themselves from the ship when this type of thing happens but we don't know their whereabouts or even if they were there."

Fennessy said 100 firefighters were battling the blaze, which likely reached temperatures of 1,000-plus degrees.

Also responding to the smoky scene alongside the G Street Mole were a city firefighting helicopter, the San Diego Harbor Police and the U.S. Coast Guard, according to fire department spokeswoman Monica Munoz.

After seeming to mostly burn itself out and then flaring up again, the blaze continued on into the late afternoon as firefighters doused the exterior of the gutted ship with powerful hoses in an effort to subdue the flames without filling the vessel with enough water to sink it, officials said.

The U.S. Coast Guard was in contact with the ship's owner, who was on his way from Mexico to San Diego.

Crews will remain on scene throughout the night as the fire continues to burn.

The cause of the fire was still under investigation.