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Massive fire destroys historic WWII blimp hangar in Tustin

As flames finally die down, Tustin residents react to devastating fire at historic WWII era hangar
As flames finally die down, Tustin residents react to devastating fire at historic WWII era hangar 05:23

In what onlookers described as "tragic" and "disappointing," a massive fire destroyed one of two historic blimp hangars at the former Marine Corps Air Station in Tustin on Tuesday.

Towering over 17 stories tall and 300 feet wide, the structures, which once housed blimps used in World War II, were deemed historic civil engineering landmarks of the 20th Century. They had been featured in multiple TV shows and films, including "JAG," "The X Files," "Austin Powers," "Pearl Harbor" and "Star Trek."


Crews first responded to the scene around 1 a.m. near the intersection of Valencia Avenue and Armstrong Road, where they found flames bursting through the roof of the wooden building, according to the Orange County Fire Authority. 

Helicopters normally used to battle wildfires were called to the scene to help control the flames, which continued to burn through Tuesday afternoon and was finally considered under control at around 10 p.m.

The base is no longer being utilized so the water for the building has been shutoff, making it challenging for fire crews to get the water supply they need to extinguish the flames. 

"We had to create a relay system, using over 1,000 feet of hose dropped on the ground to get water from hydrants on the street to our trucks on the other side of the building," said Capt. Thanh Nguyen, OC Fire Authority.

Major crime investigators with Tustin PD have launched an investigation into what could have caused the fire.

"Well they're working hand in hand with the Orange County Fire Authority's arson unit as well," said Tustin police Lieutenant Ryan Coe. "Obviously, this is a big structure. ... We need to try to figure out where did this thing start inside here and how did it start."

The wooden building is 17 stories tall, over 1,000 feet long and 300 feet wide. It was originally built in 1942 to store large blimps that the U.S. Navy used to patrol the southern California coastline for enemy submarines during WWII.

Tustin residents reflect on "tragic" loss of hangar    

The fire elicited a strong reaction from Tustin locals, many of whom don't remember the city skyline without the looming hangars in view. 

"It's tragic," said Karen Luchesi, who has lived in the area for decades. "I've been around since this was an active base, and the blimp hangars have always been just the model of our military and our past."

Dozens of people lined up to watch the end of an era collapse in front of their eyes. 

"Just growing up here, playing in these fields, just seeing it end like this — it's disappointing," said Nicholas Dominguez, another resident. 

Related: What is the story behind the giant blimp hangars in Tustin?

But outside of the fond memories, some locals are concerned about the potential hazards the burn could bring to the area. 

"It's scary, I mean we don't know what pollutants there are," said Eric Papacosta, who lives nearby. "There's a lot of debris, if it's asbestos. It's a wood structure made of Douglas fir, I'm sure there's creosote or preservative."

Police have asked the public to avoid the area while fire crews continue to monitor the large fire.

City of Tustin
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