Skip to main content

LATEST UPDATES: Tracking COVID-19 | Vaccines | Racial Injustice

Navy Charges Sailor With Setting Fire That Destroyed Warship

Fire still burns on the second day after fire on board the USS Bonhomme Richa...

Credit: Department of Defense

Above: Fire still burns on the second day after fire on board the USS Bonhomme Richard, July 13, 2020.

The U.S. Navy said Thursday that it's charged a sailor with starting a fire last year that destroyed a warship docked off San Diego.

The USS Bonhomme Richard burned for more than four days and was the Navy’s worst U.S. warship fire outside of combat in recent memory. The amphibious assault ship was left with extensive structural, electrical and mechanical damage and was later scrapped, costing the Navy billions of dollars.

The sailor was a member of the crew at the time, Cmdr. Sean Robertson, a U.S. 3rd Fleet spokesperson, said in a statement. No name was released, and Robertson could not be immediately reached for comment.

No other details were provided, and it was unclear what evidence was found or what the motive was.

The amphibious assault ships are among the few in the U.S. fleet that can act as a mini aircraft carrier.

The Bonhomme Richard had been nearing the end of a two-year upgrade estimated to cost $250 million when the fire broke out on July 12, 2020.

RELATED: USS Bonhomme Richard Decommissioned After Devastating Fire

Photo caption:

Photo by Denis Poroy AP

Smoke rises from the USS Bonhomme Richard after an explosion and fire on board the amphibious assault ship at Naval Base San Diego. The Navy is investigating whether the fire was due to arson.

About 160 sailors and officers were on board when the flames sent up a huge plume of dark smoke from the 840-foot (256-meter) vessel, which had been docked at Naval Base San Diego while undergoing the upgrade.

The fire started in the ship’s lower storage area, where cardboard boxes, rags and other maintenance supplies were stored. But winds coming off the San Diego Bay whipped up the flames and the flames spread up the elevator shafts and exhaust stacks.

Then two explosions — one heard as far as 13 miles (21 kilometers) away — caused it to grow even bigger.

The fire sent acrid smoke billowing over San Diego, and officials had recommended people avoid exercising outdoors.

Firefighters attacked the flames inside the ship, while firefighting vessels with water cannons directed streams of seawater into the ship and helicopters made water drops.

More than 60 sailors and civilians were treated for minor injuries, heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation.

FEATURED PODCAST

San Diego News Now podcast branding

San Diego news; when you want it, where you want it. Get local stories on politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings. Hosted by Anica Colbert and produced by KPBS, San Diego and the Imperial County's NPR and PBS station.

  • Need help keeping up with the news that matters most? Get the day's top news — ranging from local to international — straight to your inbox each weekday morning.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Curious San Diego banner

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or sign up for our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.