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Raging Fire Destroys Massive World War II-Era Blimp Hangar in Southern California
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Published 5 months ago on
November 8, 2023

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TUSTIN, Calif. — A raging fire Tuesday destroyed a massive World War II-era wooden hangar that was built to house military blimps based in Southern California, and authorities said the blaze could burn for days.

The Orange County Fire Authority said in a social media post that allowing the structure to collapse was the only way to fight the inferno, which was reported around 1 a.m. The cause was under investigation.

The agency released video of flames racing along the curved roof, which fell apart in sections. A huge plume of dark smoke was visible for miles around.

Firefighting Strategy

“Due to the dynamic nature of the fire, and the imminent danger of collapse, we have determined the most operationally sound method is to allow the structure to collapse, at which point ground crews can move in closer, and aggressively work to extinguish the fire,” the Fire Authority said.

Fire Chief Brian Fennessy said no injuries were reported. The fire smoldered into the evening.

Historical Significance

The historic hangar was one of two built in 1942 for the U.S. Navy in the city of Tustin, about 35 miles (56 kilometers) southeast of Los Angeles. At the time, the Navy used lighter-than-air ships for patrol and antisubmarine defense.

According to the city, the hangars are 17 stories high, more than 1,000 feet (305 meters) long and 300 feet (91.4 meters) wide, putting them among the largest wooden structures ever built. The destroyed structure was known as the north hangar.

The Navy installation became a Marine Corps air station in the 1950s and closed in 1999. Fennessy said his agency was in contact with the Navy, which still owns the property.

Hollywood productions have used the hangars for TV shows and movies including “JAG,” “The X Files” and “Pearl Harbor,” and they’ve also appeared in commercials. In 1993, the site was listed by the American Society of Civil Engineers as one of the historic civil engineering landmarks of the 20th century.

“With all that in mind, 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, albeit several days.”

The north hangar had been shuttered since it sustained roof damage during an October 2013 windstorm, according to the city.

 

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