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Civilian Worker Hurt in Crane Fire at Seabee Base


PORT HUENEME — A civilian worker suffered second- and third-degree burns to his hand and face Wednesday when a shipboard crane at the Naval Construction Battalion Center burst into flames during a military training exercise.

Electrician Raymond Tanner, 52, was inside the crane's control booth when it was engulfed in flames about 2:35 p.m. He was taken to St. John's Regional Medical Center in Oxnard, then transported by helicopter to the Grossman Burn Center at Sherman Oaks Hospital. He was listed in stable and fair condition, Grossman spokesman Larry Weinberg said.

Tanner, of Ocala, Fla., suffered burns to 15% of his body, including his right hand, arm, shoulder and the right side of his face and neck, Weinberg said. The burns to his hand will most likely require skin grafts, according to a St. John's nursing supervisor.

Two other civilian workers were near the fire, but were uninjured, base spokeswoman Teri Reid said.

The cause of the fire is still being investigated.

The crane, used to lift heavy military equipment, is attached to the deck of the Cape Edmont, a Military Sealift Command ship carrying weapons and vehicles based in Charleston, S.C., Reid said. The ship is docked at the Seabee base this week for an Army drill to train soldiers on how to get equipment off a ship and move it swiftly to the battlefield during a war.

Although the Cape Edmont serves the military, its crew is made up entirely of civilians, such as the electrician burned in Wednesday's fire, officials said.

While unloading Bradley fighting vehicles, trucks and Humvees, soldiers described seeing a "ball of fire" surrounding the crane when the accident occurred.

"We heard a 'poof,' smoke came out, and that window flew open and [the electrician] was hanging halfway out," Army Pvt. Scot Frazer said.

A firetruck from the base drove onto the ship via a ramp and extinguished the fire within 10 minutes, Reid said. Engines from the Ventura County and Oxnard fire departments also responded.

Reid said the accident is the second to occur during the three drills the Army has conducted on the base since 1998. A worker received a minor injury during a similar drill in November 1998, she said.

Injuries during such drills are rare, but the exercises are not risk-free, said Navy Lt. Michael Chandler of the 834th Transportation Battalion in Concord, which is overseeing the exercises.

Cranes lift heavy containers weighing several tons while soldiers below drive armored vehicles down ramps. And hundreds of towering armored vehicles roll past work crews, all of which have the potential for mishaps.

"We go through a lot of practice so we don't have any accidents," Chandler said.

Wednesday's fire delayed work for nearly an hour until soldiers again could drive the armored vehicles off the ship and line them in rows on the pavement near the port. The second part of the drill will begin Friday, when the 600 vehicles are driven or towed to Fort Irwin near Barstow for a month of war games.

The drill involves the 3rd Brigade of the Army's 3rd Division from Fort Benning, Ga., 834th Transportation Battalion and about 100 workers from the Naval Construction Battalion Center in Port Hueneme.

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