Faults Cited After A 2008 Nuclear Carrier Fire Exacerbated The Bonhomme

In light of the Bonhomme Richard fire, the Chief of Naval Operations’ endorsement and investigation report of the 2008 George Washington fire makes for a very tough read, particularly as many of the same findings will likely be repeated in the forthcoming Bonhomme Richard safety investigation.

The suspected cause of the USS George Washington fire was the careless disposal of an unauthorized cigarette that ignited materials in an un-inspected and cluttered space deep within the aircraft carrier. The ship had halted Zone Inspections, and, without zone inspections, the empty space quietly accumulated flammable detritus, including 90 gallons of refrigerant compressor oil, 25 gallons of unknown liquid hazardous waste as well as improperly-stored lagging, technical publications and even clothing. The fire tore through the Auxiliary Boiler Exhaust and Supply spaces as the ventilation system created a chimney effect, spreading the flames.

Sounds like they need a few more admirals.

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Nothing that those who work within the Navy DC/survivability community haven’t said over the years.

Sounds like the firefighting on BHR was better than it was on GW. Those guys were known to be terrible at it prior to the fire. They didn’t disappoint.

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There are more Admirals and General officers now than there were during WWII.

The time to fight fire is before it starts, not when it flashes off. When will THEY learn?

It’s a trait shared by many other Navies. Since I left every other officer is now a captain.

That does not make it right. Especially with ABS and such.

What is being missed is the difference magnitude in the damage on GW and the the damage on BHR.

The damage on BHR should be of the same general magnitude as GW. It was dumpster fire that got out of hand.

The inside of the island is gone. Decks are gone. What was onboard that caused it to burn as hot as it did? The plywood protecting decks doesn’t burn that hot.

Maybe whatever was in these barrels contributed to what had to have been tons of other flammable material.

That’s just the barrels you see.

That’s all I can comment on but I seriously doubt that group is all there were.

There is a Navy Times article that shows another bunch of barrels that appear to be in the same area.

Sure there were more than a few. Among other items.

How do you manage lessons learned so they don’t become forgotten lessons revisited only after an incident that they may have prevented?

While the Bonhomme Richard may be reminiscent of the George Washington, the GW fire was 12 years ago. Many of the junior enlisted crew members of the BHR had likely not yet joined the Navy in 2008, the junior officers had not yet been accepted to the academy. And even for those sailors and officers who were, how can a single incident stay relevant in the daily lives across years of service, turnover, deployments and assignments?

We are quick to point out the last similar incident report following a major event, but what is the count on non-relevant incident reports, procedural changes, and directives issued on all manner of subjects since 2008?

We typically got the word out in our fleet with early preliminary incident reports, to be followed by alerts, bulletins, and policy changes following the official investigation. And if deemed important enough those documents would get issued again years later. And perhaps they’d be read and understood, or perhaps they’d be skimmed and marked as read. But to suggest that the each of the hundred such notifications issued each year will themselves necessarily prevent the next similar incident several years down the road is, in my opinion and experience, highly unlikely.

I struggled with this constantly in the offshore drilling world. The most effective prevention of repeat incidents is by those who learned the lesson the hard way, those who were there at the time. I have the direct topical knowledge to prevent reoccurrences of incidents that I was onboard for, but even my relief is already one step removed from that. And my contemporaries on other vessels another step farther, especially if a different class of vessel with different equipment. We will surely never forget the Deepwater Horizon, those of us in the industry at the time. But for those joining the industry today, is that really and truly anything more than a slogan?

So what is the best way to manage this, for posterity? I am still searching for that answer.


I don’t think would be enough to do it. Not sure what else would be on board to do it.

You must have missed this bit …

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No, I didn’t miss it.

There aren’t all that many barrels there, including the ones in other pictures, to explain a fire going through the Island at >1200F for an extended period of time. Even if they were full of jet fuel, that amount shouldn’t cause a fire to burn that long or that hot.

No one said they did.

Look closely at the photos of drums on USS Bonhomme Richard, a few are distorted but it’s not apparent that any of them released whatever fluids are contained in them. Instead, consider that a LHD contains a huge class A fuel load mostly located in the forward part of the hull, above the waterline. Thousands of mattresses and bedding for ships enlisted crew and embarked Marines, and medical rooms, storerooms and offices are located in the forward half of the ship. The superstructure houses officer living quarters and communications spaces, and other compartments that all carry a high class A fuel load. I submit these fuel loads, once ignited, contributed mightily to fire.

I’m very aware of what the class A fireload is. That is why I ask 'what burned?"

The ship was still per se in the yards and the crew hadn’t moved aboard so the only A material in the berthings was mattresses and rack curtains, yet some the only thing left in a few was steel mattress springs. The aluminum bunks melted away. Makes me wonder about the PRC decking.

What do class societies have to do with it? Navy combatants aren’t classed.


Linoleum tiles on decks, leather/vinyl chairs in ready-rooms, CIC, Officer Cabins, DC locker supplies [wood dc plugs/hoses/etc], spill locker contents [pillows/pads/diapers], paint on bulkheads, wire insulation, Plastic status boards on bridge/CIC, papers in ship’s office, all & everything