USS Bonhomme Richard burns
The USS Bonhomme Richard ablaze at Naval Base San Diego in July 2020. Navy photo

The U.S. Navy has formed a fire safety group to prevent catastrophes like the local blaze that destroyed the USS Bonhomme Richard last year.

Naval Sea Systems Command announced the establishment of the Industrial Fire Safety Assurance Group this month. The team has “a clear focus on preventing future industrial shipboard fires and reducing risks highlighted in the investigations of previous fires.”

According to NAVSEA, over the last 12 years, the Navy has seen 14 major shipboard fires that resulted in the loss of two capital asset ships, while costing the service $6 billion in repair and replacement costs.

One of those losses, of the Bonhomme Richard, occurred at Naval Base San Diego, where a suspected arson fire gutted the amphibious assault ship in July 2020.

The ship was undergoing a two-year $249 million upgrade when fire broke out in a lower storage area. Nearly 60 sailors suffered various injuries, including heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation, as the five-day blaze raged.

An October report found that “repeated failures” in training and firefighting preparation doomed the ship. A total of 17 officers, crew and civilian employees were cited for failures that directly led to the loss of the Bonhomme Richard; 17 others were said to have contributed to the disaster.

On Monday, the sailor accused of setting the fire, Ryan Mays, faces an article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a preliminary hearing.

The new Navy fire safety team will be tasked with analyzing industrial shipboard fire metrics, and developing actions to address and reduce those risks. Officials pointed to electrical fires as potential “top offenders.”

The group, which is slated to open a “war room” this month, will report to Vice Adm. William Galinis and Executive Director, Giao Phan.

“Shipboard fires in an industrial environment cannot be considered an acceptable cost of doing business,” said Eric Duncan, director of the team.

The Navy decommissioned the Bonhomme Richard in April.

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