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Exclusive: USS Bonhomme Richard warship fire hero shares his story

Posted at 6:53 PM, Nov 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-30 21:53:48-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - In an exclusive interview with ABC10 News, a firefighter shared his heroic story of helping battle the massive fire that erupted aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard this past July.

“It was a crazy situation,” said Deputy Fire Chief Robert Sepulveda with Navy Region Southwest Fire Emergency Services. “We [had] about 400-plus firefighters on-scene at the time,” he stated and added, “I was on the front lines with the firefighters and was directing the fire attack on the forward side of the ship at that time.”

His first shift lasted for 30 hours. It took almost a week to knock it all down. “What I was feeling at that time was obviously fear and wanting to make sure that everyone was safe on-scene and make sure I had that command presence to be able to unify everybody,” he told ABC10 News

He has now received a civilian of the year award for his heroic actions.

On Monday, Navy officials announced that the warship would be decommissioned after it was gutted this summer during the explosive fire at Naval Base San Diego. The Navy reported that it’s not cost effective to bring the ship back, which could require up to $3 billion and seven years to restore.

At the time of the fire, more than 60 personnel including sailors and civilians were treated for injuries like heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation.

In August, ABC10 News was the first to report that the fire was being investigated as an arson and the lead suspect is a navy sailor, according to multiple sources with close ties to NCIS.

To date, the Navy will only confirm that the cause is still under investigation.

Sepulveda remains grateful to the many sailors who ran to help just minutes after the flames erupted. “These ships are like homes to them and to see them in action and put everything on the line to make sure that their home was safe at the end of the day [was] incredible,” he added.

The time lines for towing and dismantling the decommissioned ship are still being finalized.