PORTLAND – A firefighter who was injured battling a fire last year aboard a nuclear submarine at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard described Friday how another firefighter nearly died in the fire and asked a judge to impose the maximum sentence on the man who set it.
Casey James Fury, 25, who worked at the shipyard, set fires on the USS Miami, in May and June, because he wanted to go home early. He pleaded guilty in November to two counts of arson and was sentenced Friday in U.S. District Court to more than 17 years in prison and $400 million in restitution.
U.S. District Judge George Singal gave Fury 205 months in prison, less than the maximum of 235 months, which prosecutors sought, and more than the 188 months sought by Fury’s attorney.
“It is only by the grace of God that no one else was more seriously hurt or killed as a result of that fire,” Singal said.
Eric Hardy, a firefighter at the shipyard, described Fury’s crime as “unforgiveable” and asked the judge to deliver the maximum sentence.
Fury, formerly of Portsmouth, N.H., started a fire inside the USS Miami on May 23 while it was in dry dock for repairs and rehabilitation at the shipyard in Kittery.
He left his work assignment in the torpedo room of the submarine, went to the stateroom on the mid level and used a lighter to set rags on fire before returning to his work chipping paint, prosecutors said. A co-worker smelled smoke and sounded the alarm as the fire spread quickly, fueled by oil-based enamel paint.
“This was the worst fire I’ve ever seen,” Hardy said at Friday’s sentencing hearing. “If it weren’t for sheer luck, we would have had a death on that boat.”
Prosecutors said 50 people were aboard the submarine when the fire started, and five firefighters were injured fighting the blaze throughout the night.
At a press conference after the sentencing, Hardy said fighting the fire aboard the sub was like “fighting a fire in a wood stove and climbing down the chimney.”
“We were on our hands and knees,” he said, “and even through our bunker gear, our hands and knees were burning.”
He said the firefighters went in with enough oxygen to work for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, in smoke so thick that it left just 6 inches of visibility and a roar from the fire that was as loud as a rock concert.
Hardy said he was the next-to-last man out after one bout in the burning sub, and turned to drop his oxygen pack and wait for the last man to climb out of the hatch to the engine room.
“I heard a blood-curdling scream, and as I looked back, he was falling down the hatch,” Hardy said, not identifying the man. “If he had fallen, he would have been dead because of the fall.”
Hardy said he grabbed the falling firefighter as the man passed out, and suffered torn muscles and a herniated disc in the process.
“As he fell, he took me down the hole with him, but I was able to hold on,” he said.
Nearly 10 months later, the USS Miami remains in dry dock and there is no money for repairs because of federal spending cuts that took effect March 1, said Navy Rear Adm. Richard Breckenridge, commander of the Navy’s 27 attack submarines on the Atlantic Ocean.
“To lose a ship of the line is a serious matter,” Breckenridge said at the hearing.
At a press conference afterward, he said, “It’s an unfortunate tragedy, especially at a time when we need the Miami on the front lines.”
Fury also set a fire on the exterior of the submarine on June 16 and sounded a false fire alarm on June 19.
One of the prosecutors, Assistant U.S. Attorney Darcie McElwee, argued that although the fire in May caused more damage, the fire in June was “more significant” because it showed that while Fury knew of the consequences of his action in the first fire, he acted again.
Fury’s attorney, David Beneman, argued that his client suffers from anxiety that is now under control, and that the second fire indicated his criminal conduct was “de-escalating.”
After setting a major fire, Fury moved on to one that caused little damage outside the ship, to a false alarm three days later, Beneman said.
He called Fury’s behavior “immature” and “impulsive” but said he had learned the consequences of his actions.
Fury, in an orange prison uniform, with closely trimmed hair and black framed glasses, stood to address the court.
“I am truly sorry for what I’ve done,” he said. “I only wish I had found proper help for problems before this happened.”
Before the judge announced his sentence, he focused on the second fire that Fury set, on the dry dock cradle outside the submarine.
“I think the second fire in this case is especially troubling,” Singal said. “It displays, in my mind, a callous disregard not only for the property involved, but for the safety of others after having seen what had occurred after the first fire.”
U.S. Attorney Thomas Delahanty II said federal authorities have little expectation that Fury will pay the $400 million in restitution — close to the estimated value of the damage to the submarine.
“The reality is, we will not collect very much of it,” he said.
The judge ordered Fury to complete five years of supervised release after his prison term.
Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at