By Jason McLure
(Reuters) - A former painter at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Maine who admitted using a cigarette lighter to ignite a fire that caused about $400 million in damage to a U.S. Navy nuclear submarine simply to get out of work pleaded guilty on Thursday to arson.
The blaze set by Casey James Fury, 24, in May aboard the attack submarine USS Miami, which was in dry dock for repairs at the shipyard in Kittery, Maine, burned for 12 hours and injured five emergency responders battling the flames.
Fury, of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, pleaded guilty in federal court in Portland, Maine as part of a deal with prosecutors.
He also was charged with setting a second fire in June near the submarine that was quickly extinguished, according to prosecutors.
The prosecution and Fury agreed to request a sentence of between 15 and 24 years. The charges carry a maximum sentence of life in prison and a fine equivalent to the damage caused.
During an investigation by the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service, Fury admitted he used a cigarette lighter to ignite a vacuum cleaner and a pile of rags in a stateroom of the Miami.
"The reason he set the fire was in order to get out of work," said NCIS special agent Jeremy Gauthier.
He added that Fury told investigators he was taking a variety of medications for anxiety, depression, allergies and insomnia at the time of the first incident.
Fury also said he was anxious about a text conversation with his former girlfriend and wanted to leave work when he set the second blaze, according to court papers.
Repairs to the submarine will not be completed until 2015, and the Navy plans to use the vessel for 10 years after that, the U.S. Defense Department said in August.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Will Dunham)