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On July 29th, 1967, the USS Forrestall (CV59), a United States Navy carrier, had a major fire off the coast of North Vietnam, killing 134 crewmen and injuring 62. The deck camera footage is required viewing when you attend Fire Fighting school on the 32nd Street Naval Base in San Diego, CA.

To this day, some folks offhandedly refer to the Forrestall as the Forest Fire. When I first saw the deck footage in class, it left me with a sick feeling in my stomach. In one scene, you could see a group of men running towards the fire with charged firehoses when several 500-pound bombs cook off. After the flash, all you see are the hoses flailing wildly. The personnel have just vanished in less than a tenth of a second.

I personally avoid the title Forest Fire out of respect for those that died, but a lot of naval personnel still use it. Hopefully some of those folks will think twice about using the term, if only in deference to those shipmates that didn't make it home.

The USS Forest Fire is a nickname given to the USS Forrestal because it was the scene of the worst ship fire in the history of the United States Navy (I do agree with Rancid_Pickle, it's not exactly the most respectful name given to the disaster and I advise against using it, but I put it here because I didn't want to make a somewhat redundant node). It occurred at 10:52 AM, July 27, 1967 in the Gulf of Tonkin during the height of the Vietnam War on the USS Forrestal. It happened when a Zuni rocket was accidentally fired from a F-4 Phantom and hit a 400 gallon belly fuel tank loaded with highly flammable J-P jet fuel on a parked A-4D Skyhawk that poured the burning fuel all over the aft flight deck.

Immediately, a chief petty officer and the fire fighting teams were on the scene to put out the fire when a bomb exploded, killing them, and throwing shrapnel 400 feet away. As the fire raged on, people were literally blown off the flight deck and into the water. The jet fuel that spread rapidly was also eating through the flight deck itself and lower decks were also ablaze. It was also igniting missiles and rockets, and burning other planes on deck.

The initial fire on the flight deck itself was out at around 12:15 PM with tons of ordnance and planes dumped into the water. However, the fires in the lower decks stubbornly refused to die. They would not be out till 12:20 AM.

The aftermath was devastating. The death toll was at 134 with 62 wounded of a crew of 5,000. The aft part of the Forrestal's flight deck was completely burned, and scarred with burn marks, holes from the fire and to extinguish fires on the lower decks. It was the worst fire since the bombing of the USS Franklin in World War II.

However, acts of heroism were reported, the 130 pound Lieutenant Otis Kight managed to throw overboard a 250 pound bomb alone. The Forrestal's explosive ordnance demolition officer, Lieutenant Junior Grade Robert Cates, defused and jettisoned on 500 pound and one 750 pound bomb that were on the flight deck smoking.

The ship limped to the Philippines where it was given emergency repairs before returning to Norfolk, Virginia for an extensive 7 month repair of 1/5 of the ship's length and 5 decks. The Forrestal returned to active duty on April 8, 1968. She was only involved in Vietnam for 4 1/2 days.

As a side note, this was also Senator John McCain's ship and he escaped from his plane as it and 2 A-4s burst into flames.


Sources

http://langfamily.8k.com/ThatDay.htm
http://www.forrestal.org/fidfacts/page13.htm

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