By LUIS MARTINEZ and MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — A U.S. Navy sailor is being questioned by investigators for possible arson after allegedly starting the massive fire on the USS Bonhomme Richard in San Diego in July, according to defense officials.
The almost week-long fire caused so much damage that the Navy is now debating whether it makes sense to keep the large amphibious assault ship in service.
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) has identified the sailor, serving aboard the ship, as the potential suspect that may have started the blaze, a U.S. official said.
The investigation is still ongoing and no charges have yet been pressed, another official said.
“The Navy will not comment on an ongoing investigation to protect the integrity of the investigative process and all those involved,” said Lt. Timothy Pietrack, a U.S. Navy spokesman. “We have nothing to announce at this time.”
KGTV, ABC’s affiliate in San Diego, was first to report the details that a sailor may have been responsible for the fire on the ship.
Multiple sources told KGTV that various search warrants were executed at the sailor’s home and property. The sailor’s name and rank were not disclosed.
The fire began on the morning of July 12, in a storage area above where Marine Corps vehicles are usually stored on the large amphibious assault ship that looks like an aircraft carrier.
The fire quickly spread to the ship’s hangar deck, where it spread throughout most of the ship’s upper decks and raged for five days before it was finally extinguished.
Navy officials said at the time that the temperatures reached as high as 1,200 degrees when the flames were at their peak.
The Navy is carrying out four investigations into how the fire started and the extensive damage that it has left behind.
Following a tour of the damage in July, the Navy’s top admiral questioned whether it made sense to repair the ship that has been in service since the late 1990s.
“I am 100% confident that our defense industry can put this ship back to sea,” said Adm. Mike Gilday, the chief of naval operations. “But, having said that, the question is: Should we make that investment in a 22-year-old ship? And I’m not going to make any predictions until we take a look at all the facts and we follow the facts and we can make reasonable recommendations up the chain of command on the future steps, any repair efforts, future repair efforts of Bonhomme Richard.”
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