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USS Bonhomme Richard Keeps Burning At The San Diego Naval Base

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

In San Diego, the Navy is still working to put out a fire that started on board the USS Bonhomme Richard more than 24 hours ago. Nearly 60 sailors and civilians have been taken to the hospital for minor injuries. Matt Hoffman from member station KPBS reports the Navy doesn't know yet if the ship can be saved.

MATT HOFFMAN, BYLINE: The Navy says the fire started below deck in an area where Marine equipment is stored. All of USS Bonhomme Richard's crews have been accounted for. Since Sunday morning, thick smoke has been pouring over Naval Base San Diego. Rear Adm. Philip Sobeck says there won't be a complete damage assessment until the fire is out.

PHILIP SOBECK: The superstructure and the upper decks continue to burn and have sustained damage. The forward mast has collapsed, and the ship is listing. However, dewatering is in progress, and we're keeping a good balance between both (ph).

HOFFMAN: Crews on the ground on San Diego Bay and now in the air using helicopters are hitting the ship with water.

SOBECK: For the last 24 hours, 400 sailors have been on board that ship to make sure that we make every effort to save that ship.

HOFFMAN: San Diego County officials are telling residents to assume the air quality near the ship is unhealthy, to limit their exposure and to stay indoors. Sobeck says no ordinance or aircraft are on the amphibious assault ship, but there is a million gallons of fuel, which is worrisome for officials.

SOBECK: Absolutely a concern - but again, we're doing the mitigation, and we're making sure that, again, the risk of that is low.

HOFFMAN: Right now Navy officials say there are about two decks in between the fire and the fuel, something Sobeck says they're closely monitoring.

SOBECK: We go after and we plan for worst case all the time. We train to it, and we're going to make sure we don't get there.

HOFFMAN: The Navy still doesn't know how the fire started. The ship was at Naval Base San Diego for maintenance. But Sobeck says the fire wasn't sparked by any crews doing work. Flames have spread throughout the ship, and there isn't a timeline for when the fire could be out.

For NPR News, I'm Matt Hoffman in San Diego. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.