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U.S. navy charges sailor 1 year after fire destroyed docked warship

The U.S. navy charged a sailor Thursday with starting a fire last year that destroyed the USS Bonhomme Richard docked off San Diego, Calif., marking the maritime branch's worst warship blaze outside of combat in recent memory.

Ship had been undergoing 2-year, $250-million US upgrade at time of fire

In this handout photo from the U.S. navy, the USS Bonhomme Richard is seen burning on July 12, 2020, in San Diego, Calif. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Austin Haist/U.S. navy/Getty Images)

The U.S. navy charged a sailor Thursday with starting a fire last year that destroyed the USS Bonhomme Richard docked off San Diego, Calif., marking the maritime branch's worst warship blaze outside of combat in recent memory.

The amphibious assault ship burned for more than four days. It was left with extensive structural, electrical and mechanical damage and was later scrapped. Estimates to replace it ran up to $4 billion US.

The sailor was a member of the crew at the time, Cmdr. Sean Robertson, a U.S. 3rd Fleet spokesperson, said in a statement. The sailor was charged with aggravated arson and the willful hazarding of a vessel, Robertson said. No name was released.

No other details were provided, and it was unclear what evidence was found or what the motive was.

The amphibious assault ships are among the few in the U.S. fleet that can act as a mini-aircraft carrier.

The Bonhomme Richard had been nearing the end of a two-year upgrade estimated to cost $250 million US when the fire broke out on July 12, 2020.

The fire is seen from a nearby golf course, in San Diego, on July 12, 2020. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

About 160 sailors and officers were on board when the flames sent up a huge plume of dark smoke from the 256-metre vessel, which had been docked at Naval Base San Diego while undergoing the upgrade.

The fire started in the ship's lower storage area, where cardboard boxes, rags and other maintenance supplies were stored. But winds coming off the San Diego Bay whipped up the flames and the flames spread up the elevator shafts and exhaust stacks.

Acrid smoke

Then two explosions — one heard more than 20 kilometres away — caused it to grow even bigger.

The fire sent acrid smoke billowing over San Diego, and officials had recommended people avoid exercising outdoors.

Firefighters attacked the flames inside the ship, while firefighting vessels with water cannons directed streams of seawater into the ship and helicopters made water drops.

More than 60 sailors and civilians were treated for minor injuries, heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation.

Smoke rises from the ship, which was docked at Naval Base San Diego, on July 12, 2020. (Denis Poroy/The Associated Press)

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