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One Year Later, Navy Hasn't Released The Cause Of Bonhomme Richard Fire

Fire still burns on the second day after fire on board the USS Bonhomme Richard, July 13, 2020.
Department of Defense
Fire still burns on the second day after fire on board the USS Bonhomme Richard, July 13, 2020.

It’s been a year since a fire destroyed the USS Bonhomme Richard on San Diego Bay, but the Navy still hasn’t released the cause of the fire that burned for four days, sending smoke billowing over the region.

In November, the Navy declared the ship a total loss, determining the fire which melted part of the superstructure had caused so much damage that it was not worth the cost of repairs. The Wasp-class ship is designed to carry Marines and their equipment.

One Year Later, Navy Hasn’t Released The Cause Of Bonhomme Richard Fire
Listen to this story by Steve Walsh

RELATED: USS Bonhomme Richard Decommissioned After Devastating Fire

“When you are conducting a criminal investigation you want to gather as much information as you can and hold it to make sure you’re gathering accurate information from other people. You don't want stuff to get widely circulated,” said Robert Schaal, a former arson investigator for the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, who now works for Gulf Coast Fire in Florida.

Last year, a high ranking Navy source confirmed a media report to KPBS that a sailor was being questioned in an arson investigation. Naval Criminal Investigative Service Spokesman Jeff Houston confirmed Monday that a criminal investigation is still underway and no charges have been filed.

“I would say at this point they know the cause. I would say it’s not that unusual to release those findings publicly,” Schaal said.

Arson has one of the lowest clearance rates among the crimes listed on the FBI Uniform Crime Report, said Schaal. He says cases involving fire are difficult to prove.


“It’s not uncommon for a determination of arson to be made and ultimately no one is arrested. Because you still have to get enough evidence that a particular person committed the crime,” he said.

This would not be the only arson on board a Navy vessel. In 2012, a shipyard worker set a fire aboard the submarine USS Miami.

Before the fire, USS Bonhomme Richard was in San Diego in the final phases of being retrofitted to carry the F35B jet fighter. A skeleton crew was on board when the fire started. The ship has since been decommissioned and sent to be scrapped. Aside from a criminal investigation, the Navy is compiling at least two other reports on the cause of the fire and potential solutions to avoid future fires.