The snipes ordered too many rags ahead of deployment and some blue-shirts on the in-port duty section decided to store the excess bales in the exhaust uptakes above the main engines.
That's what led to a terrifying April 14, 2014, at-sea fire, $2318 million in damages and a canceled deployment for the cruiser Hue City. It also cost Lt. Cmdr. John Liddle his job as executive officer of the Hue City, after investigators concluded the ship didn't follow established procedures for starting the ship's massive gas turbine engines and generators to get underway.
"This fire was preventable," wrote Adm. Bill Gortney, then head of Fleet Forces Command, in his July 15 endorsement of the investigation. "The chain of events that led to the fire began with the poor decision to store bales of rags in the uptake trunk. … Additionally, the Engineering Operational Sequencing System Master Light-off Checklist procedure to 'inspect and remove all fire hazards from engineering spaces (including uptake spaces)' was not followed."
The investigation also tells the story a tale of sailors who thwarted gallantly fought an enormous at-sea fire that spread to five levels of the ship, made all the more complicated because it wasn't immediately clear what the source of the blaze was, or even what kind of fire they were fighting.
"Although the damage to USS Hue City was significant, the ship's crew prevented what could have been catastrophic damage and loss of life through their quick reaction and effective firefighting," Gortney wrote.
The April 14 fire was caused by bales of burning rags that were hazardously stowed in an engine uptake. It took the crew the better part of an hour to find the source of the blaze, which struck as many as five different spaces. Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (AW/NAC) Mike Stevens, right, surveyed a fire damaged space in November.
Photo Credit: MC2 Martin L. Carey/Navy
The fire reportnvestigation, obtained by Navy Times through a Freedom of Information Act request, said that the commanding officer, Capt. Wyatt Chidester, should be retained as CO because he had only taken over assumed command a little over a month before the fire, and that his policy of checking "every space, every day" had not had time to take root in the command yet.
When reached for comment by email the XO, Liddle, declined to comment via email because on his relief, saying that the case is still underbeing reviewed. But he said in a statement that leading the crew fighting the fire that fought the fire was the honor of his life.
"I'm immensely proud of our Sailors for the job they did on the night of the fire," he wrote. "The fact that we were able to bring Hue City home under her own power without a single injury to the crew is a testament to their hard work, courage, and skill.
"It was an honor to lead them on that night, and every day I spent as Hue City's XO was a privilege that I will always cherish."
A mysterious fire
The massive blaze had profoundly mundane roots, according to the investigation.
It began March 19 when the ship returned from Phase training underway off the coast of the Hue City's home port, of Mayport, Florida.
That afternoon, the ship received 235 bales of rags, each weighing more than 50 pounds. Most were for engineering department; and they'd ordered about 75 extras to squirrel away for their upcoming deployment.
The ship's top enlisted engineer, the "top snipe," arranged a working party of E-5 and below to distribute the rags to the various work centers.
The working party proceeded along until they filled up all the spaces engineering had for storing rags. Then one sailor came back to the working party and said there was a "storeroom" on the port side where they could put the extras.
"That storeroom," the investigator wrote, "was the uptake trunk."
The working party formed a "conga line" to get the bales to the space, but nobody asked any questions or spoke up about the dangers of storing them in the uptakes, especially against the exhaust ducts, the report said.
Between March 19 and the April 14 fire, it is unclear whetherthat anyone entered the space and noticed there were 52-pound bales of rags stacked four-high in the trunks. This despite, as Gortney noted, the ship was required to check the uptakes for flammable material ahead of getting underway.
Only three days into a surge deployment that began April 11, the crew got an indication of fire from The first indication that the ship was on fire was a burning plastic smell and black smoke billowingcoming from the ship's forward stack, noticed by . The , first noticed by the embarked air crew and the officer of the deck. Burning plastic and smoke wcould be signs of what's known as a class-alpha fire.
But minutes later, the ship's engineering control room was investigating a possible class bravo fire, caused by burning fuel oil, in the ship's number one gas turbine generator that was caused by smoke backing up in the uptakes and spreading pushing into the GTG's housing.
Then, as heat from the uptakes started melting bulkheads, the crew began reporting multiple class charlie fires, which are electrical, because of the tell-tale white smoke billowing through the passageways.
The first report of fire came at 6:18 p.m. Four minutes later, At 6:22, the engineering watch dumpeds CO2 on the number one GTG because of the appearance that its after they think its fuel caught on fire. esin about for a fire in the deck locker on the main deck of the ship. At 6:28, a fire brokeeaks out two levels up in the passageway by radio central
Within 19 minutes, the crew thought they were fighting By 6:37, the ship was fighting what they thoughtwas no fewer than three classes of fire in five separate spaces. That's when the pilot house called away General Quarters.
The crew found the fire source of the fire around 7:18, after removing someinsulation from the unit commander's cabin stateroom on the first level of the ship that revealed a hole leading into the uptake. The firefighters doused ing team put water on the flames, extinguishing the blaze. The ship had been fighting the fire for more than an hour.
At 10:00 p.m., Hue City secured from General Quarters.
Six sailors earned Navy Commendation Medals for their efforts fighting the blaze: Fire Controlman 1st Class (SW) Michael Blankenship; Chief Damage Controlman DCC (SW) Quincy Crockett; . They are: Chief Hull Maintenance Technician (SW) Shane Hammond; Chief Machinery Repairman (SW/AW) Ignacio Lopez; and Gas Turbine Systems Technician (Electrical) 2nd Class (SW) Chelvis Marshall; and Lt. Daniel Wilson.
"Once alerted to the situation, the officers and crew of USS Hue City fought the fire ably and professionally, displaying tenacity, teamwork and dedication," the investigating officer wrote. "The overall efforts contained the damage to within the uptake trunk and immediate surrounding spaces."
The Hue City missed its deployment, which was to the waters around Europe in the wake of renewed tensions with Russia over the crisis in Ukraine. The ship has undergone over nine months of repairs is beingwas repaired pierside that are estimated to cost during a $23 million maintenance and repair availability.