USS Miami Fire Update-Arson?!

Posted by Rebekah
Jul 24 2012

Well, I expected to hear quite a bit about the Miami weeks ago, but all was quiet for a long time.  Then this morning, that story took an abrupt and strange turn.

My specialty in submarines lies in their development up to WWII.  That’s not to say I’m not interested in Cold War submarines or modern submarines, but it’s SO MUCH EASIER to get direct information about that time period (when most classifications have been dropped) than the modern time period (where they’re nice and healthy and in place–and from the scuttlebutt I’ve heard strongly hinted at, likely to be for many decades, if not, “Ooops!  A match just fell into this box of sensitive documents.  What will we do?”)  But to my knowledge, there’s been no arson aboard a submarine.

Until now.

The story about the vacuum was on its way to being a freak accident in the annals of submarine history, when a second fire happened in the Miami’s dry-dock cradle on June 16.  It was quickly extinguished, but got investigators thinking that this was one fire too many, so started looking deeper into every aspect of the fire.  And at the bottom of it, they found a very anxious young man.

A drydock worker, named Mr. Casey James Fury, has been arrested and arraigned in federal court this morning with two counts of arson. (Since the Miami is federal property, causing damage to her is a federal offense) He was initially questioned about the small fire in the drydock and soon confessed to that, but denied any involvement in the large fire on May 23.  It was only when investigators told him he had failed the lie detector test that the whole story came out.

It seems that Mr. Fury clocked in for his shift at the Miami on 4 pm on May 23 and reported to work as a painter and sandblaster in the forward section of the torpedo room.  This is deep in the belly of the submarine, seen in the diagram below.  According to the Navy paper, that day, Fury was needle gunning in the torpedo room, or blasting paint and/or corrosion using a pneumatic or electric tool called a needle gun, which is used on irregular surfaces.  At 5:30, he claims he suddenly felt really anxious, grabbed his lighter and cigarettes and went one deck up to the Crew’s Quarters (some articles say “stateroom” which normally would imply an officer’s cabin, but this area is not listed among the damaged compartments, so that could be a misstatement).  Spotting a bag of rags and a vacuum on a top rack, set the rags on fire, leaving when the flames were about two inches high.  The vacuum therefore, had nothing to do with the fire, other than proximity.  Fury then went back to his assigned location and waited for the fire alarm to go off.

All so he could get out of work for the day.  Twelve hours later, dozens of firefighters at risk from three states, seven injured, this fire was finally out.

And the vacuum was eventually announced as the culprit in a truly bizarre accident.

But then Fury had another bad day.  in the early evening of June 16, Fury had a text conversation with an ex girlfriend which worried him, and he felt he needed to get off of work.  Ironically, he was assigned to be “safety watch” that day in Miami’s drydock cradle.  From what I can find, the safety watch’s job is just what it sounds like, to keep everyone safe.  Part of that involves making sure flammable materials and sources of fire are kept separate, extinguishing fires if they start, fighting fires or hitting fire alarm for evacuation if necessary, and making sure, at the end of a shift, that there are no embers, or fire sources still active.

According to the investigator interviewed for the Navy Times, after Fury decided he had to leave early, this is what he did:

“Fury explained that he became anxious over the text conversation with his ex-girlfriend and wanted to leave work,” Gauthier said in an affidavit. “At around 6:30, he started pacing in the area of the [Main Ballast Tanks] and eventually walked aft toward a cut out in the hull near the back of the boat. His mind was racing.”

Fury grabbed some alcohol wipes, setting them on wood in the dry dock cradle. He ignited the wipes with a lighter and walked back to his work area, when the fire alarm sounded and the workers left the boat. The flames were put out before they reached 18 inches high.”

Soon, someone reported seeing a drydock employee in company jumpsuit and hard hat in the area of the fire moments before it was noticed, and soon the investigation apparently settled on Fury.  He was interviewed on July 18 about the June 16 fire, and eventually admitted to it, while denying the Mat 23rd fire.  It wasn’t until July 20, just four days ago,when the full story came out.  To test him, the investigators asked him to retrace his steps on May 23rd aboard the USS Pasadena, an identical submarine to Miami in dryddock there in Portsmouth, then again aboard the Miami herself.  However he explained himself, it was apparently enough to arrest Fury on Friday and arraign him yesterday.

Fury has apparently had his share of problems.  On four different medications for Anxiety, Depression, Insomnia and Allergies, he claims he initially didn’t come forward because of is fuzzy memory of that time.  To his credit, he did check himself into a mental health facility on June 21, six days after the second fire, and checked himself out two days later on June 23rd.

Now he faces life in prison, and a steep fine, as well as potential restitution.

And the story is still not done.  The fate of the Miami still hangs in the balance.  The official estimate of her repairs, for whatever reason, has not been announced, and the Navy is facing budget cuts this year and next.  How deep those cuts will be still hangs on either passing a budget in Congress or raising the debt ceiling.  The only thing that has been announced regarding her repairs, is that if they’re done, they’ll be done there in Portsmouth.

Sources for this blog post and more information:

Stars and Stripes (military paper) about the Miami fire and how it happened

Navy Paper on the same fire

Daily News article on Miami arson and arsonist

Foster’s Daily Democrat Article about Miami Fire and Fury–some interesting details

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