City Warns of 'Extreme Peril' After Blimp Hangar Fire

Parks, schools closed after asbestos found in debris of WWII-era building
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 7, 2023 6:33 PM CST
Updated Nov 10, 2023 7:36 AM CST
Fire Destroys Historic Blimp Hangar in California
Smoke rises from the rubble of the historic Tustin Marine Corps Air Station blimp hangar, Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023, in Tustin, Calif., the day after a fire destroyed the WWII-era structure.   (Mindy Schauer/The Orange County Register via AP)
UPDATE Nov 10, 2023 7:36 AM CST

Parks and schools were closed Thursday in a southern California city after officials found asbestos in the charred debris of a historic World War II-era blimp hangar. The city of Tustin closed at least nine parks and urged residents to limit outdoor activities to reduce their exposure to ash after asbestos was detected in preliminary samples of ash and debris, the AP reports. A Veterans Day event planned for Saturday was canceled. Both Orange County and the city also declared local states of emergency over concerns that asbestos and other chemicals could have polluted the air and ground. The city's emergency declaration said the possibility of airborne asbestos posed "conditions of extreme peril to the safety of persons and property" that only local, state, and federal efforts can mitigate.

Nov 7, 2023 6:33 PM CST

Military—and movie—history went up in smoke in a fire at a massive World War II-era blimp hangar south of Los Angeles Tuesday. Authorities say fire broke out in Hangar 1 at the Marine Corps Air Station in Tustin around 1am and the building was fully engulfed when fire crews arrived, KTLA reports. The Orange County Fire Authority said they stopped the fire spreading to other buildings and "determined the most operationally sound method is to allow the structure to collapse," the AP reports. "There's literally nothing we can do about it at this point," Orange County Fire Authority Chief Brian Fennessy said. "We can't get close enough to that building without concern for it collapsing on our firefighters."

The building, one of two blimp hangers built at the base in 1942, was 17 stories tall, 1,000 feet long, and 300 feet wide, making it one of the world's largest freestanding wooden structures. Hangar 1 and its twin appeared in movies and TV shows including Pearl Harbor, The X-Files, and Star Trek, Deadline reports. In 1993, the site was listed as one of the historic civil engineering landmarks of the 20th century, reports the AP.

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The hangars were built for the Navy, which used blimps for antisubmarine patrol. The base was later transferred to the Marines. It closed in 1999. Area residents, including veterans, watched the historic building burn on Tuesday, NBC Los Angeles reports. "It's a sad day for the city of Tustin and all of Orange County," Fennessy said. "But we are fortunate that no injuries have been reported and we are in a position to extinguish the blaze without putting firefighters at risk." (More California stories.)

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