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California's 40th District

Nov 10, 2023 | In The News


Supervisors in Orange County 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 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 consuming the structure.

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.

Those precautions included the Thursday closure of schools in the Tustin Unified School District and several community parks.

Schools were previously scheduled to be closed Friday in observance of Veterans Day.

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

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.”

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 about 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 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.”

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

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.

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