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Bonhomme Richard still blazes in San Diego, no cause identified yet in explosion

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The blaze on the USS Bonhomme Richard is still raging, one day after an explosion injured 34 sailors and 23 civilians as it was undergoing maintenance in San Diego. Five sailors remain in the hospital.

The 5-alarm fire is being fought by naval ships and local San Diego firefighters, with trucks, naval fireboats and helicopters dumping water on the blaze.

The fire started at approximately 8:30 a.m. on Sunday when an explosion rocked the lower deck of the amphibious assault ship. Firefighters arrived 20 minutes later, although the Navy has onboard firefighters who first responded to the blaze.

All U.S. Navy sailors are trained in basic firefighting.

There is no indication yet what caused the explosion.

“’There was a report of an internal explosion’ in a lower stowage area, Rear Adm. Philip Sobeck, commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 3, told reporters during a Sunday evening press conference just outside the base. ‘We don’t quite understand yet the source of … the seed of the fire,’” reports USNI News.  

The ship was in the east docking area just south of the San Diego downtown area and across from the Navy Seal’s base at Coronado.

Great black and grey balls of smoke, along with white steam, can be seen rising out of the center of the ship, which is used to ferry Marines for amphibious assaults while also providing close air support in combat.  

The ship is usually crewed by about 1,000 sailors, but only 160 were on aboard on Sunday as it underwent repairs.

The ship houses both fixed wing and rotary aircraft, plus a variety of landing craft and a compliment of 1,900 Marines.

The most famous ship-board fire was aboard the USS Forrestal in 1967 when a Zuni rocket attached to an F-4B Phantom fired accidentally and cause jet fuel to spread on the deck and explode. It caused 134 deaths and 161 injured. The ship was almost lost in the Gulf of Tonkin because of the fire.   

Because of that disaster, the U.S. Navy spends a lot of time training sailors to be firefighters, and the Forrestal is likely on every sailor’s mind today in San Diego.

“Everyone gets trained to be a firefighter, flooding stopper — all the damage control — and that’s because when you’re out at sea, there’s nobody coming to you,” said Eric A. Dukat, a retired U.S. Navy commander who is now an associate professor in the College of Maritime Operational Warfare at the U.S. Naval War College.

The San Diego fire chief says that the ship could burn all the way to the waterline and will likely burn for days.

But Sobeck disputes part of that, saying there are no large munitions aboard.

“We’re absolutely going to make sure it sails again,” he said of Bonhomme Richard, which also serves as his flag-ship.

PHOTO: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Christina Ross / Fox News

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