Helicopters drop water as ship continues to burn at Naval Base San Diego

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SAN DIEGO — Water-dropping helicopters circled Naval Base San Diego Monday morning as acrid smoke rose from a fire on USS Bonhomme Richard for a second day.

Five sailors remained hospitalized with non-life threatening injuries as of Monday morning and 57 personnel — both sailors and federal firefighters — had been treated for minor injuries such as heat exhaustion or smoke inhalation, according to Navy officials.

The blaze broke out some time before 9 a.m. Sunday and flames spread through the vessel rapidly, forcing crews to leave the ship and fight the fire from its exterior within about two hours.

Approximately 160 sailors were aboard the San Diego-based ship at the time of the fire, according to a tweet from Naval Surface Forces. The entire crew was evacuated from the ship, which had been undergoing maintenance, and all were accounted for, the Navy said.

In an evening news conference Sunday, Rear Adm. Philip Sobeck said the fire was originally reported in the lower vehicle storage area of the ship. Navy and federal firefighters had to clear out compartment spaces in order “to close in the center of the fire,” Sobeck said.

“Sailors across this waterfront are absolutely doing a magnificent job to save the USS Bonhomme Richard,” he said. “They are fighting their ship and they are saving their ship. The resiliency of our sailors and the team around them, we’re seeing just incredible results.”

Sailors stationed near the fire who weren’t directly involved in the emergency response were directed to shelter-in-place “until further notice,” base officials tweeted after 5 p.m. Sunday.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer thanked the “brave sailors and rescue crews.”

“We are here for the sailors and civilians affected by the ship fire at Naval Base San Diego,” Faulconer said Sunday. “@SDFD and other first responders continue to lend support. All of the crew is off the USS Bonhomme Richard and accounted for.”

There was an explosion on the ship just before 11 a.m., according to SDPD, but no firefighters were in the immediate area and no one was hurt by the blast.

“What we cannot ascertain is exactly what that explosion was caused from,” Sobeck said, adding initial reports point to a “backdraft of an overpressurization.”

“As the compartment started heating up, that caused a pressurization and that’s sort of what caused that explosion,” he said. “Certainly under due caution, we evacuated, reset the perimeter and then go back and fight the fire.”

SDFD was instructed to exit the pier before noon Sunday, the department said, and was replaced by the federal crews.

With heavy smoke visible in the area, National City officials urged nearby residents to take precautions to limit potential health impacts, including staying indoors and limiting outdoor activities. The stench could be smelled across the city of San Diego Sunday evening and Monday morning.

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