Blasting Fire Hits Twice-Torched Sub
Just days after a shipyard painter was sentenced for setting two fires aboard a drydocked nuclear sub, fire crews responded this week to a new fire caused by abrasive blasting on the ship.
The new fire, though small and apparently accidental, may be the third strike that kills the sub’s chances for repair, officials are saying.
Blasting Grit Fire
The fire Monday (March 18) afternoon aboard the USS Miami appeared accidental and was quickly extinguished, according to authorities at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, ME, where the sub is docked for an overhaul.
This week, shipyard spokesperson Deb White told the New Hampshire Union-Leader that sandblasting operations in the control area of the sub’s forward compartment had produced some sand grit that damaged a temporary light fixture, igniting a fire.
The shipyard did not respond Thursday (March 21) to a request for more information.
Workers in the area were temporarily evacuated, and fire crews arrived about 2 p.m. The fire was put out with a fire extinguisher, reports said. Work resumed about 4:30 p.m.
However, the fire was the Miami’s third in less than a year, and some reports now indicate that the sub may not be repaired after all.
$450M in Damage
The earlier blazes, set last summer by civilian painter Casey Fury, caused $450 million in damage.
Fury, who is in his mid-20s, was sentenced March 15 to 17 years in prison for arson. He also was ordered to pay $400 million in restitution, which prosecutors concede they are unlikely to see. Fury pleaded guilty Nov. 8 to the charges to avoid a lifelong prison sentence.
Civilian painter Casey Fury admitted setting fires that caused $450 million in damage to the USS Miami at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, where the nuclear ship was drydocked. He was sentenced to 17 years in prison.
Fury told investigators that had set the fire because he was anxious and depressed and wanted to leave work. He also said he was on a combination of medications at the time.
More than 100 firefighters worked 12 hours through the night to control the first, and larger, of the two blazes, which occurred May 23. Five firefighters were seriously injured in the first incident. The second fire was in June.
Repairs in Doubt
While this week’s fire was small, reports now cast doubt on repairing the sub at all. Last summer, Navy officials said that repairing the 22-year-old vessel would buy it another 10 years of service.
Now, that calculus seems to be changing.
Rear Adm. Richard Breckenridge called the USS Miami fires a "historical and tragic experience" and cast doubt on whether the sub would be repaired.
"The Navy needs every submarine in our inventory," Navy Rear Adm. Rick Breckenridge, commander of Submarine Group 2 in Groton, CT, told the Associated Press on Monday, before the third fire broke out.
"Restoring Miami remains a high priority. But it necessarily must compete with other high naval priorities during this period of restricted budgets."
Separately, WCVB.com quoted Breckenridge this week as saying that the Miami repairs had been postponed because of mandatory budget cuts stemming from the federal budget sequestration that took effect March 1.
Earlier, Breckenridge called the Miami fires a “historical and tragic experience.”
Separately, Paul O'Connor, president of the Metal Trades Council, also told the Union Leader that repairs would be delayed.
The Portsmouth shipyard’s 4,700 civilian workers will be furloughed for 22 days without pay between April and Sept. 30 under the sequestration cuts. Many shipyard workers face layoffs under the sequester.