Some schools cleared to reopen as Tustin hangar continues to burn

Rob McMillan Image
Wednesday, November 15, 2023
Some schools cleared to reopen as Tustin hangar continues to burn
More than a dozen schools in Tustin are set to reopen Wednesday after a massive fire at an old military hangar released toxic substances into the air.

TUSTIN, Calif. (KABC) -- It's been more than a week since a massive, historic hangar from the former Marine Corps Air Station in Tustin erupted in a devastating fire, catching the attention of people all around the world.

But with the large structure still burning, there's increasing concern for residents in the city of Tustin, especially those close to the fire.

"It feels like people in other cities, from what I've seen, are saying we should be more concerned that it's a historic structure that's burning," said Lisa Sato, who lives about two miles north of the fire. "They're not really understanding, in my opinion, that there's toxic chemicals coming off of that, that could be very harmful in the long run."

Sato's daughter Zoey, who is in first grade at Ladera Elementary School in Tustin, has been home since last week. The Tustin Unified School District made the decision to conduct remote instruction because of concerns about air quality.

"We've had to scramble big time with child care. For our youngest, we actually kept him home from preschool because we weren't sure about air quality and what was going on with that. I had to call out of work, and I'm able to work from home as well, but she's had to miss school since Thursday," Sato said.

Sato was relieved to hear that her school, along with most others in the district, were cleared by a certified asbestos consulting firm to resume in-person instruction. But she is still concerned about debris and other pollution caused by the fire.

"Our neighbor said she found a couple pieces of debris, and we've read on the Nextdoor app that up by the (Tustin Marketplace) and in the Irvine area, they have found debris, but we haven't found anything on our property yet," she said.

In a statement posted to the Tustin Unified School District's website Tuesday afternoon, Superintendent Mark Johnson said that 11 elementary schools and five secondary schools were cleared to resume on-campus instruction.

"This morning, as we continue to meet with the Incident Management Team, OCHCA, South Coast AQMD and the City of Tustin, we are thrilled to share that we are reopening all campuses that have been cleared by our certified asbestos consulting firm, Envirocheck, for on-campus instruction tomorrow, November 15," said Johnson in a prepared statement. "Campuses cleared by the certified asbestos consulting firm to date include Arroyo Elementary School, Benson Elementary School, Guin Foss Elementary School, Ladera Elementary School, Loma Vista Elementary School, Myford Elementary School, Orchard Hills K-5 School, Peters Canyon Elementary School, Red Hill Elementary School, Tustin Memorial Academy, Tustin Middle School, Foothill High School, Hewes Middle School, Orchard Hills 6-8 School and Pioneer Middle School. In addition to clearance by Envirocheck, these campuses have received a general cleaning and will resume in-person instruction, athletics, and activities."

The fire broke out in the early morning hours of Tuesday, Nov. 7. Despite the Orange County Fire Authority bringing in water-dropping helicopters, they quickly lost control of the fire.

Due to the size of the 17-story structure and difficulty of safely reaching the flames, Orange County Fire Authority crews opted to pull back and allow the massive wooden hangar at Valencia Avenue and Armstrong Road to burn, essentially consuming the structure.

But for people who live in the area, there's also concern about how long that wait-and-see approach will take.

"With the Santa Ana winds happening, thankfully for us it was blowing it towards the ocean," said Sato. "But yesterday the winds changed, and it was blowing up this way, so we could smell smoke yesterday."

"Of course, there's concern for firefighters' safety and all of that. But I think the communication surrounding why has it been burning so long kind of has been lacking for all the agencies involved," Sato said.

Flare-up erupts at historic Tustin hangar after massive fire

There was a flare-up Saturday night of the fire that destroyed one of two massive World War II blimp hangars at the former Tustin Air Base.