A firefighter walks off the submarine Miami on May 24, the morning after an arsonist started a devastating fire on the nuclear-powered warship. (Navy)
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Casey James Fury is seen in a booking photo. Fury, of Portsmouth, N.H., a former shipyard worker accused of setting a fire May 23 that caused about $450 million in damage to the nuclear submarine Miami, pleaded guilty Nov. 8. (Dover Police Department via AP)
PORTLAND, Maine — A former shipyard worker who set a fire that caused about $450 million in damage to a nuclear-powered submarine pleaded guilty Thursday under an agreement that could send him to prison for nearly 20 years.
Casey James Fury admitted setting the fire inside the sub on May 23, as well as a second fire outside the sub on June 16. The defense and prosecutors agreed to recommend a sentence that ranges roughly between 15 years and 19 years.
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service said Fury, a painter and sandblaster, confessed to setting the fires to get out of work.
The 24-year-old Fury, formerly of Portsmouth, N.H., pleaded guilty to two counts of arson in U.S. District Court.
Fury's attorney, David Beneman, said he anticipated that sentencing would occur in March. He declined to discuss the plea agreement.
It took more than 100 firefighters to save the USS Miami after the fire quickly spread through forward compartments while the sub was in dry dock at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine. Seven people were hurt while putting it out, the Navy has said.
The Navy intends to repair the Los Angeles-class attack sub, which is based in Groton, Conn., with a goal of returning it to sea in 2015.
Federal prosecutors said the plea agreement takes into account a number of factors, including Fury's lack of a criminal record and the fact he probably never envisioned such catastrophic damage when he set a small fire on a bunk, as well as the seriousness of the crime and the extensive damage to the submarine.
U.S. District Judge George Singal isn't bound by the plea agreement. But if he imposes a sentence greater than 235 months (about 19 1/2 years), then Fury would be allowed to withdraw his guilty pleas.
The fire caused heavy damage to forward compartments including living quarters, a command and control center, and the torpedo room. It did not reach the rear of the submarine, where the nuclear propulsion components are located. All weapons had been removed from the submarine during the overhaul.
Two crew members, three shipyard firefighters and two civilian firefighters were hurt as they fought the blaze, the Navy said.
U.S. Attorney Thomas Delahanty II said the firefighters and the submarine crew were put in an extremely dangerous situation, with heavy smoke and extreme heat. "There were physical and emotional injuries to ... first-responders who risked their lives going into what had to be the equivalent of a roaring blast furnace," he told reporters at a news conference.
Fury told the NCIS that he set the fires because he was feeling anxiety and wanted to go home, according to prosecutors. The second fire, on June 16, was set outside the submarine and was quickly doused with no damage.
The submarine was undergoing a 20-month overhaul and about 50 sailors and shipyard workers were onboard when the first fire started.
The damage was so severe that there was speculation that the sub would have to be scrapped. But the Navy said its tests indicated that fire didn't damage the hull, which must withstand extreme pressure as the vessel travels deep underwater.
An earlier estimate put the damage to the 22-year-old submarine at $400 million. Navy Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of Naval operations, said the Navy is confident the Miami can be returned to service for $450 million, plus-or-minus $50 million.