updated 10/7/2008 8:46:08 PM ET 2008-10-08T00:46:08

A fire aboard the nuclear-powered USS George Washington aircraft carrier resulted from a failure to properly store hazardous materials and other missteps that allowed the fire to burn unchecked for more than eight hours, Navy investigators found.

The report, released by the Pacific Fleet command, found that at least a month before the May 22 fire, the USS George Washington's chief engineer reported finding more than 300 gallons of flammable liquid improperly stored on the carrier.

The report found the carrier's damage control team took nearly eight hours to discover the source of smoke and flames. By the time the team discovered the fire, it had burned thorough eight decks of the carrier and damaged 80 compartments.

The Navy estimates the cost to repair the carrier was $70 million.

"This fire was entirely preventable," Adm. Robert Willard, the Pacific Fleet commander, wrote.

The report said the carrier's damage control department, which includes its firefighting unit, had been given poor marks on performance and training practices during three inspections in the months before the fire.

"The extent of damage to the USS George Washington could have been reduced had numerous long-standing firefighting and firefighting management deficiencies been corrected," Willard wrote.

The findings were first reported Tuesday by The San Diego Union-Tribune.

The carrier was en route from Chile to San Diego when the fire began. Earlier, investigators said unauthorized smoking in a space where there was improperly stored hazardous materials was the likely cause of the fire.

After making repairs in San Diego, it has since moved to its new homeport in Japan.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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