By Alberto Garcia
A US Navy ship docked at Naval Station San Diego caught on fire on Sunday and sent smoke over areas of San Diego from Barrio Logan to La Mesa.
The USS Bonhomme Richard, an amphibious assault ship that looks like a small aircraft carrier, first reported a fire on Sunday in a large cargo area within the ship that is used to carry landing crafts that Marines use for land assaults launched from the ship. Navy helicopters and fire boats could be seen fighting the fire on Monday.
Although the ship has fuel tanks that can hold up to one million gallons of fuel they are not in danger of the fire. Navy officials say the fire’s temperatures reached over 1,000 degrees and damaged the superstructure of the ship. Experts are not sure if the ship will be repairable or will be scrapped.
The smoke from the fire has been drifting northeasterly with the coastal breeze and has now reached parts of East San Diego, College area, Lemon Grove, and La Mesa, but the most affected areas within a few miles of the ship, including Barrio Logan, National City, and Chula Vista.
County air quality experts are monitoring the smoke and warning nearby residents against outdoor activities when they see or smell smoke. The smoke may contain higher levels of harmful toxins from chemicals or materials burning in the military ship.
First launched in 1998, the USS Bonhomme Richard is named in honor of the Revolutionary War frigate captained by Admiral John Paul Jones. Jones named his ship after Benjamin Franklin who was well-known as the author of Poor Richard’s Almanac, which was printed in France as Les Maximes du Bonhomme Richard. Another previous USS Bonhomme Richard was an aircraft carrier during World War II that was commissioned in 1971.
The ship is designed to deliver a Marine Corps Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) using landing craft or helicopters and can also carry Harrier attack aircraft, F-35B Lightning II stealth strike aircraft, or Landing CraftAir Cushion (LCAC) hovercraft.
Military experts say the cost to replace the ship could be up to $4 billion.