Fire destroys WWII-era airship hangar in California

By | November 8, 2023

A fire Tuesday destroyed a cavernous wooden airship hangar in Tustin, California, that played a central role during World War II, authorities said.

Chief Brian Fennessy of the Orange County Fire Authority said at a news conference Tuesday morning that more than 70 firefighters responded around 1 a.m. to try to contain the blaze at one of the two colossal hangars in the former Tustin Marine Corps Air Station.

After their initial efforts failed to extinguish the fire in the north hangar, Chief Fennessy said, firefighters deployed three helicopters to extinguish the large domed building from above, a method more typically used to fight large-scale forest fires.

But that strategy also failed, prompting officials to let the structure burn rather than put more firefighters in danger, Chief Fennessy said.

Measuring 17 stories, 1,000 feet long and 300 feet wide, the hangars are among the largest wooden structures built in the 20th century.

“We can’t get close enough to this building without fearing it will collapse on our firefighters,” Chief Fennessy said, adding, “Our use of aircraft on a structure like this is extraordinary.”

No injuries were reported and the cause of the fire was still under investigation Tuesday, authorities said. The north hangar was “mostly empty,” Tustin Mayor Austin Lumbard said at the news conference.

Officials emphasized at the news conference how upsetting it was to see a building with such history go down in flames, especially since so many local residents had ties to the shed, whether because relatives had already worked in the camp or simply because they had seen the hangar. huge structure with respect.

The structures have also been used as filming locations for major Hollywood productions, The Los Angeles Times reported. Several World War II films, including “Pearl Harbor” (2001), used the vast space of the North Hangar. Sci-fi TV shows and movies have also taken advantage of it, with the 2009 reboot of “Star Trek” using it as a futuristic place to store space shuttles. “The X-Files” transformed the South Hangar into a meeting place for government officials and aliens in 1999.

By late Tuesday morning, sections of the hangar began to collapse. Videos and photos published On social media, firefighters showed flames engulfing crisscrossed wooden beams, with part of the blackened roof collapsing and releasing a plume of ash.

“This is a sad day for the city of Tustin,” Chief Fennessy said, noting that the monument has long served as an emblem of the city’s contributions during World War II.

Officials in Tustin, a city of about 79,000 about 34 miles southeast of Los Angeles, have recently been trying to preserve the hangar and have been in contact with the U.S. Navy, which owns the building, Mr. .Lumbard.

The base was built in 1942 as Naval Air Station Santa Ana and housed airships that were “used to patrol the U.S. coastline primarily to monitor enemy submarines.” according to the Tustin Area Historical Society.

In 1951, the base was reactivated to support the Army during the Korean War, becoming the first air installation developed solely for helicopter operations. The base was used for Marine Corps helicopters in the 1990s before closing in 1999.

The north hangar and the south hangar have been added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

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