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Arson expert: Investigation of USS Bonhomme Richard fire may take more than a year

USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) Fire
Posted at 3:44 PM, Aug 27, 2020

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — An arson investigation expert says the probe into possible arson behind the USS Bonhomme Richard fire could take more than a year to complete.

Wednesday multiple sources with close ties to NCIS told ABC 10News that a sailor is being investigated for arson in the Navy ship fire at Naval Base San Diego last month.

Timothy Wilhelm is a senior fire investigator with Robson Forensic and has extensive experience with arson cases. He’s not part of the Navy ship investigation but says it could take agents more than a year to complete their findings.

“There's so many delicate systems in that ship. There's so many different players and it's just a huge undertaking,” Wilhelm told ABC10 News.

RELATED: Sources: Sailor under investigation for arson in USS Bonhomme Richard ship fire

It was on July 12 when the ship erupted into flames, causing more than 60 sailors and civilians to be treated for injuries like smoke inhalation and heat exhaustion. Smoke poured into the sky over the area. It took crews four days to extinguish the fire.

The damage was so bad, that it remains unclear if the USS Bonhomme Richard will sail again.

“If the fire burned for four days where it originated, chances are [that] most of that evidence is going to be consumed. It's going to be gone,” said Wilhelm.

Wilhelm said investigators may be considering arson because of other clues.


“That leads me to believe they're using some other information that they may have like eyewitness information [which] is used quite a bit. They may have some videotapes,” he added.

On Wednesday, a spokesperson for Navy would not confirm what ABC10 News' sources reported about the possibility of arson, but did state, “the investigations are ongoing and there is nothing new to announce on their current status or findings."

On Thursday, a Navy spokesperson sent an updated statement that read, “The Navy will not comment on an ongoing investigation to protect the integrity of the investigative process and all those involved. We have nothing to announce at this time.”