SAN DIEGO, Calif. – More than 300 sailors and firefighters continued to battle hot spots as part of the ongoing efforts to extinguish fires and flareups inside the skin of amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6), as efforts enter the fourth day, Navy officials said.
Throughout the day, fire boats continued to pour water on the hull and superstructure as smoke rose in several places of the ship. Onboard firefighting crews worked to reach interior spaces, where hot spots continued to dog their efforts. Navy helicopters with the “Merlins” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 3 made “a few hundred” water drops on Wednesday onto the ship, berthed at Pier 2 at Naval Base San Diego, Brian O’Rourke, a Navy Region Southwest spokesman, told USNI News.
Late Wednesday local time, personnel were pulled from the fight due to the ship listing.
“Out of an abundance of caution the pier and ship were cleared of personnel due to an initial shift in the ship’s list. Personnel are now pier side. We will continue to monitor as the ship settles,” read a Navy statement.
Officials said Tuesday the water drops were helping to cool the superstructure – which suffered extensive damage – and enable fire crews and damage-control teams inside the ship to work through spaces to squelch hot spots and make damage assessments.
The Navy is investigating the fire, which the ship’s crew reported about 8:30 a.m. Sunday in a lower stowage area. Dozens of firefighting vehicles with federal and local fire departments responded to the scene. The Navy has been rotating crews of sailors to help in the firefighting efforts, pulling personnel from more than a dozen other ships on the waterfront. As dawn broke Wednesday, the Navy reported two additional sailors were treated for minor injuries, bringing the total to 40 sailors and 23 civilians who were affected by smoke inhalation or heat exhaustion.
Earlier on Tuesday, crews had were battling a fire in a forward space that had previously been accessed by firefighters.
Navy officials did not hold a press briefing Wednesday, but Naval Surface Force Pacific issued a statement in the late afternoon, stating: “We are continuing to engage in firefighting efforts and will continue to provide updates via our social media platforms.”
The Navy’s daily media briefings this week in San Diego were led by Rear Adm. Philip Sobeck, who as commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 3 oversees the Navy’s amphibious ship fleet on the West Coast.
But Capt. Scott Thoroman, Bonhomme Richard‘s commanding officer, has not issued any statement or comment. Thoroman, a former aviation electronics technician and veteran helicopter pilot, took command in November after a 14-month tour as the ship’s executive officer. “He has not and won’t at this time,” SURFPAC spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Nicole Schwegman told USNI News on Tuesday.