Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, both members of the Armed Services Committee, visited the shipyard Friday and met with its commander. They thanked a small contingent of firefighters, including Funk, who battled the blaze as the sub's metal hull trapped the heat inside.
Three Navy investigative teams were dispatched to Portsmouth Naval Shipyard to help determine what caused the fire, the senators told reporters.
The blaze started early Wednesday night shortly after a shift change at the shipyard where the sub was being overhauled. A handful of shipyard workers were in the forward compartments where the fire began in a dry dock, Collins said.
The fire wasn't extinguished until the next morning. More than 100 firefighters responded from more than a dozen agencies as far away as Groton, Conn., and South Portland.
Eric Wertheim, a U.S. Naval Institute author, characterized the USS Miami fire as a financial disaster, with the potential loss of a submarine that cost $900 million to build, but not a true disaster like the losses of the USS Scorpion and Thresher, nuclear subs that sank during peacetime with a loss of their crews.
"It's important to put it into perspective," Wertheim said. "It could've been a lot worse."
The USS Miami fire damaged the torpedo room, crew quarters, and command and control areas in the front of the submarine, but the nuclear propulsion components at the back of the sub weren't harmed.
One defense analyst suggested that the repairs would be so costly that the 22-year-old sub would be scrapped. If so, it would be the first U.S. sub lost, rather than retired, since the 1969 sinking of the USS Scorpion, the Navy said.
Vice Adm. Kevin M. McCoy, commander of the Naval Sea Systems Command, told Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine that he's hopeful that the ship can be repaired. He said that many vital components escaped damage because they had been removed for the 20-month overhaul and that salvage parts are available from decommissioned Los Angeles-class subs.
"He said, 'We've built submarines, so we can fix them as well,' " said Snowe, who toured the shipyard Friday.
Unlike a house fire, there was no way to vent the fire by knocking out windows or using axes to create an opening, and all the smoke billowed from a small number of hatches.