In an email to top Navy leadership sent Wednesday, Chief of Naval Operations Michael Gilday gave more details on the extent of the damage aboard the amphib USS Bonhomme Richard, which caught fire and burned for four days at Naval Base San Diego earlier this month.
“There is fire and water damage, to varying degrees, on 11 of 14 decks . . . I walked sections of the ship five levels below [the flight deck] and had the opportunity to examine the superstructure,” he said in an email shared widely with defense media outlets. “The island is nearly gutted, as are sections of some of the decks below . . . [the damage is] nearly encompassing the 844 ft length and 106 ft beam of the ship . . . sections of the flight deck are warped/bulging.”
Gilday has previously suggested that the wind off the bay, the location of the fire in a lower vehicle hold and the multiple explosions that rocked the ship were key contributing factors for the extent and severity of the fire.
“The explosions, some were intense, and the uncertainty of their location and timing, led to a situation, that might have been under control late Sunday night, but expanded into a mass conflagration, spreading quickly up elevator shafts, engine exhaust stacks, and through berthing and other compartments where combustible material was present,” Gilday wrote. “There were likely other contributing factors, but I won’t speculate on that.”
As he has before, Adm. Gilday emphasized the valor of the sailors from Naval Base San Diego who stepped up to fight the fire. “The dark smoke that obscured the view of teammates by their side, and the explosions – the latter had to be like a mine field . . . Some had been knocked down by these blasts – some, more than once – but they got up, re-focused, and re-attacked,” he wrote. Of the crewmembers from Bonhomme Richard, he said, “no question, this was their ship and they would walk point on every firefighting mission. Most had to be ordered . . . to go home at some point and get some rest.”
He encouraged the Navy’s top leaders to focus on positive attributes and “continue to tackle concerns within your span of control” as the investigations into the cause of the fire proceed. “We will thoroughly look into and learn from the fire on Bonhomme Richard. We will be committed to doing that together. I have no doubt about that,” he said.
Separately, in an award announced Wednesday, General Dynamics NASSCO has received a $10 million contract modification for cleanup and emergency response work related to Bonhomme Richard. The cleanup period is scheduled to extend through November.
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