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California's 40th District

Nov 9, 2023 | In The News


All schools in the Tustin Unified School District were closed Thursday due to health concerns stemming from smoke and ash emanating from the smoldering remnants of a fire that destroyed a historic World War II-era blimp hangar at the former Tustin Air Base.

The fire erupted around 1:30 a.m. Tuesday at the massive hangar at Valencia Avenue and Armstrong Road. Due to the size of the structure and difficulty of safely reaching the flames, Orange County Fire Authority crews opted to pull back and allow the wooden building to burn, essentially allowing the fire to consume the structure.

Tustin Unified School Board Vice President Allyson Muniz Damikolas said the board may call an emergency meeting Friday to discuss the district’s next moves. There were no plans as of Thursday about reopening the schools, she said. Schools were already set to be closed Friday for the Veterans Day holiday.

Orange County officials on Thursday activated the county’s emergency operations center, and Board of Supervisors Chair Katrina Foley said the board was declaring a state of emergency in response to the fire and resulting air quality and asbestos issues.

While fire activity dramatically lessened into Wednesday night, smoke and ash prompting warnings from the South Coast Air Quality Management District about unhealthy air quality, and residents were urged to avoid exposure by remaining indoors as much as possible with windows and doors closed, and to avoid strenuous outdoor activity.

On Wednesday night, the AQMD announced that testing of the debris and ash from the fire showed the presence of asbestos, prompting an even stronger call for residents to take precautions.

As a result, Tustin Unified Superintendent Mark Johnson announced the closure of all of the district’s schools on Thursday.

The city of Tustin, meanwhile, announced the closure of multiple parks:

— The Annex at Tustin Legacy;

— Tustin Legacy Park;

— Veterans Sports Park;

— Tustin Sports Park;

— Victory Park;

— Centennial Park;

— Frontier Park;

— Ron Foell Park; and

— Pine Tree Park, 1402 Bryan Ave.

The city’s Veterans Day Celebration and Car Show scheduled for Saturday has been canceled, the city announced.

Meanwhile, the Orange County congressional delegation sent a letter to Elizabeth Roody of the U.S. Navy demanding answers as to what the military will do to help clean up its site.

“We are deeply concerned abut the environmental impact of this fire and about the release of pollutants in Tustin and the surrounding areas that could impact our constituents’ health,” the congressional members wrote in the letter. “Ash and debris from the fire have fallen on residents’ properties and are getting into their homes. Further, the South Coast Air Quality Management District announced that testing of debris and ash collected in p ublic 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.”

The congressional members asked the Navy to supply more information about the materials used to build the hangar and if

Navy officials were in touch with the South Coast Air Quality Management District to test for toxic materials.

The congressional members also want to know if the Navy has a plan for cleaning up the site, if it has a plan to advise the public and what will be done with the site once it is mopped up.

The letter was signed by congressional members Young Kim, Lou Correa, Michelle Steel, Katie Porter, Linda Sanchez, Mike Levin, Ken Calvert, Jay Obernolte, Mike Garcia and Raul Ruiz.

Orange County health officials urged people in the area to limit their exposure to 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.”

The two giant hangars at the air base 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 ever built, according to the website Tustin Hangars.

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

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.

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