17 sailors, 4 civilians injured as crews battle fire at San Diego-based Navy ship

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UPDATE: Firefighters continued fighting the blaze Monday morning. Click here for updates.

SAN DIEGO – Seventeen sailors and four civilians are being treated for non-life threatening injuries Sunday from a fire burning on the USS Bonhomme Richard at Naval Base San Diego, U.S. Navy officials said.

As of about 4 p.m., firefighting crews are working to put out the fire from aboard the ship, Federal Fire San Diego Division Chief Rob Bondurant said in a statement. Multiple agencies responded to the fire after it was reported just before 9 a.m. Sunday.

In an evening news conference, Rear Adm. Philip Sobeck, commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 3, said the fire was reported in the lower vehicle storage area of the ship. Navy and federal firefighters currently are clearing compartment spaces in order “to close in the center of the fire,” Sobeck said.

“Sailors across this waterfront are absolutely doing a magnificent job to save the USS Bonhomme Richard,” he said. “They are fighting their ship and they are saving their ship. The resiliency of our sailors and the team around them, we’re seeing just incredible results.”

All of the injured sailors from the ship are in stable condition with many being treated for smoke inhalation and heat exhaustion, Sobeck said.

The base’s non-first responding personnel at Naval Base San Diego in Sector A north of Pier 5 were directed to shelter-in-place “until further notice,” base officials tweeted after 5 p.m. Sobeck said that’s to help accommodate an 1,800-foot perimeter established around the ship to ensure the safety of personnel.

In a tweet, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer thanked the “brave sailors and rescue crews.”

“We are here for the sailors and civilians affected by the ship fire at Naval Base San Diego,” Faulconer said. “@SDFD and other first responders continue to lend support. All of the crew is off the USS Bonhomme Richard and accounted for.”

San Diego firefighters were called to the fire at 8:51 a.m. with a second and third alarm being called at 9:09 a.m. and 9:51 a.m., respectively. At approximately 10:40 a.m., fire crews made the decision to leave the ship to fight the fire from its exterior, according to SDPD.

An explosion took place on the ship just before 11 a.m., per SDPD. No San Diego firefighters were on the ship at the time of the explosion. No firefighter injuries were reported.

“What we cannot ascertain is exactly what that explosion was caused from,” Sobeck said, adding initial reports point to a “backdraft of an overpressurization.”

“As the compartment started heating up, that caused a pressurization and that’s sort of what caused that explosion,” he said. “Certainly under due caution, we evacuated, reset the perimeter and then go back and fight the fire.”

SDFD was instructed to exit the pier before noon, the department said. Nearly 190 fire personnel were assigned to the scene throughout the day.

Approximately 160 sailors were aboard the San Diego-based ship at the time of the fire, according to a tweet from Naval Surface Forces. The entire crew was evacuated from the ship, which had been undergoing maintenance, and all were accounted for, the Navy said.

As of about 1:30 p.m., Navy officials said the USS Fitzgerald and the USS Russell both shifted to a pier away from the fire.

“All inport ships have been contacted and directed to provide fire parties to possibly assist with firefighting efforts,” a Navy spokesman said in a statement.

With heavy smoke visible in the area, National City officials urged nearby residents to take precautions to limit potential health impacts, including staying indoors and limiting outdoor activities.

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