Friday, May 24, 2013
The fire that raged through a nuclear submarine this spring at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery was deliberately set by a 24-year-old worker who told investigators he was suffering from anxiety and depression, according to Navy investigators.
A 2009 photo of James Casey Fury.
Casey James Fury in MySpace photo
The May 23 fire did $400 million in damage to the USS Miami and was fought by firefighters from three states.
Casey James Fury of Portsmouth appeared in federal court Monday and was told he faces up to life in prison if convicted of setting the fire to the sub, which was in the middle of a 20-month overhaul at the shipyard.
Fury was articulate and polite, clean-shaven and with medium-length hair at Monday's hearing. He wore orange jail clothing and handcuffs when he entered the courtroom. At one point he shared a chuckle with his court-appointed attorney.
Several family members attended the hearing, some of them crying periodically. They would not speak with the media.
Investigators with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service arrested Fury at the shipyard Friday night.
The arrest left shipyard workers bewildered.
"There is shock at the reality of the situation and the absurdity and the irrational reasoning of why those fires were started," said Paul O'Connor, president of the Metal Trades Council, which represents many of the workers at the yard.
"We're a community in the shipyard and we take our work seriously. For someone to be so reckless and callously irresponsible ... the actions just don't make sense and they never will to a rational human being."
Authorities initially said the fire appeared to have started in a vacuum cleaner found near where the fire originated.
But the incident prompted a massive inquiry into all aspects of the fire, which led shipyard workers to believe there was more to it, O'Connor said.
NCIS investigators apparently identified Fury as a suspect following a second fire June 16, according to an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Portland by NCIS Special Agent Jeremy Gauthier.
That fire, which was set among alcohol cleaning wipes placed on the dry dock scaffolding that supports the submarine, did little damage and the Navy said it appeared unrelated.
But another worker saw someone wearing green overalls and a hard hat near the area where the second fire started. Investigators interviewed people who had been working in that area, including Fury, who was employed as a painter and sandblaster.
He denied setting the smaller fire at the time, but was interviewed again last Wednesday and admitted setting it, the court papers said.
Fury told investigators that he had become anxious after texting his former girlfriend because he had come to believe that a man she was seeing was not merely a friend as she had claimed, the court papers said.
He told investigators he set the fire so he could leave work early. His mind was racing and he walked toward the rear of the boat, stuffed some alcohol wipes on the structure used to hold up the sub on the dry dock, and set fire to them.
During Wednesday's interview, Fury continued to deny setting the May 23 fire, which broke out in the area of a forward stateroom on the middle level of the ship and burned for 10 hours. Shipyard firefighters, submariners and firefighters from three states battled the blaze.
Firefighters were forced to enter the tight, blistering hot confines of the 360-foot submarine for short shifts to fight the blaze, battling smoke so dense they often couldn't see.
Nobody died, but seven people were injured. There were no weapons on board, the nuclear reactor was shut down and the propulsion area was not affected.
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