This story was updated at 6:36 a.m.

KITTERY –– The fire that raged for hours on a nuclear submarine at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Wednesday and this morning is out, and now officials are trying to determine the cause.

Rear Admiral Rick Breckenridge this morning praised the “heroic” work of firefighters from the shipyard and area fire departments, saying that they minimized what could have been more extensive damage to the USS Miami, which was undergoing repairs in drydock.

Breckenridge said the fire was confined to the forward compartment, where the torpedo room, living quarters and command and control areas are located. He said there were no weapons on board in the torpedo room.

“I want to emphasize the heroic actions of the firefighting teams averted what could have been a much more severe situation,” Breckenridge said.

Breckenridge is commander of submarines in the northeast and is based in Groton, Ct.

Breckenridge said the firefighters and members of the submarine crew worked quickly to stabilize the situation and to protect the environment and the public.

“The fire spread to spaces within the submarine that were difficult to access,” he said. “The heat and smoke contained in these confined spaces made it challenging for firefighters to combat the blaze,” he said.

Early this morning, numerous fire trucks from departments throughout the Seacoast filed out of the main gate of the shipyard.

Breckenridge said the sub’s nuclear power plant was manned throughout the fire, which was located in the forward compartment, at the opposite end of the submarine.

Breckenridge did not specify the extent of the damage. Seven people, including firefighters and crew members, were injured. One person was removed from the submarine on a stretcher, but Breckenridge said no one was seriously injured. 

Scott Laughton, a Kittery resident, was attending his 11-year old daughter’s recital Wednesday evening when he smelled the fire burning at the shipyard. He went on to work the night shift at a company in Eliot.
He was half-way through his before he learned that it was a nuclear submarine on fire.

“I would have been worrying had I known. That would be a big boom.”

Laughton said he wasn’t worried about nuclear weapons. “I wouldn’t suspect they would have weapons, it being here, but it’s definitely something concerning.”

Firefighters from at least three states responded Wednesday night for the fire that burned for hours aboard the submarine.

The fire was reported at 5:41 p.m. aboard the USS Miami, said Tami Remick, a spokeswoman for the shipyard. It was still burning at 12:30 a.m. today.

Remick said, “The ship’s nuclear reactor was not operating at the time and is not affected.”

Capt. Bryant Fuller, commander of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, said the fire broke out in the forward compartment of the submarine, which is dedicated to living areas as well as command and control spaces.

He said the Miami’s nuclear reactor, which is at the other end of the vessel, remains in a “safe and stable condition.”

“All non-essential personnel were evacuated” from the submarine, Remick said.

Fuller said late Wednesday night that no weapons were on the submarine when the fire broke out. He said the cause of the fire was under investigation.

“While the fire is not out, the situation is improving,” Fuller said shortly before midnight. “Due to the heat that was created by the fire, steam continues to emit from the ship from the firefighting efforts.”

The shipyard’s gates were open and workers were reporting to work as scheduled. The shipyard operates three shifts.

South Portland Fire Chief Kevin Guimond arrived at the shipyard shortly after 10 p.m., leading a crew that included two trucks and a trailer with foam that is used to combat fuel fires, said Lt. Robb Couture of the South Portland Fire Department.

“The chief said the fire is still active and producing smoke,” Couture said around 10:30 p.m. “He said they seem to be having a hard time getting to it because insulation is involved and because of the way the ship’s constructed.”

The Maine Emergency Management Agency requested South Portland’s help, knowing that the fire department has substantial foam equipment and supplies, Couture said.

“We have more foam than most places because we’re one of the largest fuel ports on the East Coast,” he said.

South Portland has more than 100 massive tanks storing gasoline, crude oil and home heating oil, an oil pipeline to Canada and tankers that enter Portland Harbor almost daily, Couture said.
Massport, the agency that oversees Logan Airport in Boston, also was expected to send foam equipment to the fire.

Firefighters from nearby New Hampshire assisted as well. The shipyard has its own firefighting force.

The USS Miami, an attack submarine 360 feet long and 30 feet in diameter, arrived at the shipyard on March 1 to be overhauled. It carries a crew of 13 officers and 120 enlisted personnel, according to the shipyard’s website.

The USS Miami is a Los-Angeles-class nuclear-powered submarine. It was commissioned on June 30, 1990, and has Groton, Conn., as its homeport. It recently completed a five-month deployment, from July to December. The submarine carried out maritime security operations during that time.

The ship’s host community is Sanford.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

[email protected]

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