In the spring of 1975 I reported for duty at the Naval Air Station Point Magu. I was assigned to the surface craft division located just north of Point Magu at Port Hueneme. The base is and was headquarters for the fighting Seabees. The base had a large deep water port where the Surface Craft division had a number of boats. There were two sixty foot patrol boats and one eighty five foot patrol boat and two one hundred and fivty foot LCU landing craft.
The reason there was a surface craft division was when the naval air station shot off a drone, and they shot it down, we were sent out to recover what we could. Most of the time the drone was a total lose. However we would drag what was left aboard to be returned to the missile division.
Another reason the Surface Craft division existed was to bring supplies to the three islands off the southern California coast used by the Pacific Missile Test Range. San Miguel island, San Nicolas island and San Clemente island.
I was assigned as chief engineer to one of the 150 foot LCU (Short for Landing Craft Utility) boats. It could carry 4 full Simi trailers. The boat had a pilot house where the boat captain sat. Below that was the wheel house where the wheel and engine throttles were. The boat captain would speak via a tube to the wheel man and the throttle man as to what he wanted. I never understood why they just didn’t put the wheel and throttles in the pilot house.
Just aft of the wheelhouse was a full galley and aft of that a head. Just aft of the head was the ladder down to the 2 engine rooms. And another ladder down to the berthing area.
I was the engineer on the boat and while underway I would descend the ladder every 15 minutes to #1 engine room to log readings and to make sure everything was okay.
This particular night we were making a run to San Clemente Island to bring out supplies. I was stationed on the throttles and Mike was on the wheel. It was pitch black outside. We could see nothing out the porthole. Mike and I were talking to each other abouts this and that when the 0215 engineroom check came. I made my way after through the galley and head and zoomed down the ladder to #1 enginroom.
I turned and in my horror saw that big 8 cylinder Cummings engine in #1 engineroom was ingulfed completely in flames. The fire was spreading rapidly! I grabbed the fire extinguisher and rushed to the engine. It was in a runaway state. I aimed the fire extinguisher at the engines blower and pulled the trigger. With a loud bang the engine stopped. The room was filled with smoke. However I managed to put the fire out and scrambled up the ladder to the main deck. Coughing and weezing, I made my way forward and reported the situation to the boat captain.
The trip to San Clemente Island was canceled and we made it back to Port Hueneme without incident. The LCU had to be unloaded as it had a full complement of goods ready to be delivered. It was unloaded and the semi’s where loaded on the LCU’S sister boat.
In retrospect I now know why there are watches in the military. If I had not gone down to check, things would have been much worse.