One of the old hangars at the former Marine Corps Air Station Tustin started burning early Tuesday morning and is now set to collapse as firefighters watch.
The hangar is one of two large hangars from World War II that dominate Tustin’s skyline, and is one of the largest wooden structures ever built according to the city.
While the fire is still going, it hasn’t spread to the surrounding neighborhoods, with more than 70 firefighters and three helicopters from the OC Fire Authority used to help keep the blaze contained.
Now, fire officials are saying they’re going to allow the structure to collapse before they put it out.
“We have determined the most operationally sound method is to allow the structure to collapse, at which point ground crews can move in closer, and aggressively work to extinguish the fire,” OCFA officials wrote in a Twitter post at 6:25 a.m.
In a press conference at 7 a.m. OCFA Fire Chief Brian Fennessy said no injuries have been reported and said it’s a “sad day for the city of Tustin and all Orange County.”
“We expect the fire will continue to burn for several hours, possibly even several days,” Fennessy said. “We expect that to go on quite a while. There’s nothing we can do about it at this point.”
The fire started burning at 1 a.m. Tuesday morning, and it’s unclear what started the fire.
Firefighters are asking nearby residents to close their windows and stay out of the area, but did not call for any evacuations, with OCFA Captain Thanh Nguyen saying they don’t expect to issue any evacuation orders.
“It’s a large building with a large volume of fire inside,” Nguyen said in an interview shortly before 6 a.m. “It makes it very challenging to extinguish, the sheer size of it.”
The hangar that caught fire, also known as the north hangar, is one of two blimp hangars still standing since the base closed in July 1999, and were originally constructed during the tail end of World War II in 1942 according to a documentary produced by the city of Tustin.
The south hangar hasn’t suffered any damage according to Nguyen.
The northern hangar loomed over the intersection of Valencia Ave. and Armstrong Road and the southern hangar still stands across from shopping complexes on Warner Ave. and Tustin Ranch Road.
The north hangar had already been closed to the public for over a decade after its roof partially collapsed in Oct. 2013, but city officials have been renting out the southern hangar for years and debating what else to do with it in the future.
Both hangars stood for decades as a testament to Orange County history, and were one of the few constants as the southern California enclave turned from a rural collection of orange groves with 130,000 residents to a sprawling urban landscape of over three million people.
Most of the former Tustin base had already been converted into a selection of housing projects, but the Navy still owns the land where both hangars sit, with Fennessy noting that they would likely turn the firefight over to the Navy once the blaze had died down a bit more.
Correction: An earlier version of this story was titled “Former Tustin Military Base Burns Down,” without specifying just the hangar burned down. We regret the error.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
Since you’ve made it this far,
You obviously care about local news and value good journalism. Help us become 100% reader funded with a tax deductible donation. For as little as $5 a month you can help us reach that goal.