Flare-up erupts at historic Tustin hangar after massive fire; Tustin Unified schools closed Monday

Leanne Suter Image
Sunday, November 12, 2023
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.

TUSTIN, Calif. (KABC) -- 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.

The flare-up was reported by the City of Tustin about 5:30 p.m. Saturday.

Firefighters from the Orange County Fire Authority planned to just let it burn itself out, as they did when the fire first erupted about 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, Capt. Greg Barta said.

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.

Barta said there WERE multiple hotspots that could flare up and any debris that has fallen is staying within the scene.

"Please continue to stay out of the area,'' the city and OCFA told residents on X . "Residents in the area should continue to keep their doors and windows closed as a precaution. We will continue to have our 24 hour fire watch personnel on site until further notice.''

Meanwhile, the Tustin Unified School District announced schools will be closed on Monday. Schools were previously scheduled to be closed Friday in observance of Veterans Day.

On Wednesday, the South Coast Air Quality Management District issued a warning about unhealthy air quality in the area after tests of debris and ash from the fire showed the presence of asbestos, prompting the issuance of the emergency proclamation and a call for residents to take precautions.

"There's been a lot of smoke and debris the first day," said Tustin resident Connie Chilton on Saturday. "Of course, there is a whole bunch of smoke and debris, but our entire neighborhood is covered with pieces of this building."

The two giant hangars were built in 1942 and once housed blimps used in World War II.

Listed on the national Register of Historic Places, the hangars stand 17 stories high, are over 1,000 feet long and 300 feet wide -- and are two of the largest wooden structures built at the air base, according to the Tustin Hangars website.

The hangars have been featured in television and films, including "JAG,'' "The X-Files,'' "Austin Powers,'' "Pearl Harbor'' and "Star Trek.''

The Tustin City Council unanimously approved an agreement with the U.S. Department of the Navy to immediately begin to remediate impacts from the blaze that destroyed a historic World War II-era blimp hangar at the former Tustin Air Base.

Final details were still being worked out, but the agreement calls for the U.S. Navy to provide immediate administrative assistance and an initial $1 million to remediate the site for the health and safety of the Tustin community. The Navy owns the hangar property.

The agreement also includes asbestos assessment and remediation for Tustin residents and businesses and demolition of the hangar to stabilize the site.

During Friday's emergency session, Tustin officials also announced plans to immediately expand cleanup services available from Envirocheck, a certified asbestos contractor, which began fire debris assessment and cleanup activities in the Tustin community on Thursday. The company has a phone number for Tustin residents and businesses with fire-related debris, which people should not touch on their own. It is 714-937-0750.

Meanwhile, Orange County Supervisors will hold a special meeting Monday to consider ratifying an emergency proclamation making it easier to deal with the health and environmental fallout from a fire that destroyed

The South Coast Air Quality Management District announced that testing of debris and ash collected in public areas near the hangar tested positive for asbestos. In response to the toxic debris, the County of Orange Emergency Operations Center's Incident Command has been activated.''

Orange County health officials urged people in the area to limit their exposure to the smoke and ash.

"Everyone should be aware of the recommended precautions to reduce the health effects of smoke and ash from building fires,'' Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, Orange County Health Officer and OC Health Care Agency's Director of Public Health Services, said in a statement.

"Extra measures may be needed for those with pre-existing medical conditions like heart or lung disease, those with disabilities, older adults, children and those who may be working outdoors.''

But residents still wonder when the flames will be fully extinguished.

"Well, it's still burning. They won't let us start remediation and they can't give us any time as to when it will be out or what will happen to the building, so we're in a wait-and-see mode with toxins all around us in the neighborhood," said Chilton.

Health officials listed several measures the public can take to stay safe:

  • Avoid touching fire debris/ash or other materials unless properly trained to do so;
  • Wear protective equipment (mask/gloves) if in an area where there is high risk of encountering asbestos;
  • Remove shoes before entering a residence;
  • Keep windows closed on windy days;
  • Spray patios with water instead of sweeping them;
  • Avoid using leaf blowers;
  • Wash off ash from vehicles, outdoor toys, outdoor furniture and pets.

County officials have set up a website, www.ocgov.com/tustin, and a hotline, 714-628-7085, where the public can get updates.

Anyone with information that might be helpful to investigators was asked to call 714-573-3225. Orange County Crime Stoppers will accept anonymous tips at (855) TIP-OCCS.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated that the fire began about 1:30 p.m.

City News Service, Inc. contributed to this report.