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Tustin Schools to Stay Closed Monday to Assess Health Impact of Air Base Fire

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Tustin Schools to Stay Closed Monday to Assess Health Impact of Air Base Fire

Orange County firefighters battle a fire affecting the north hangar at the Tustin Air Base in Tustin, Calif. on Nov. 7, 2023. (Paul Bersebach/The Orange County Register via AP)

City News Service

City News Service

11/12/2023

Updated: 11/12/2023

TUSTIN, Calif.—Schools in the Tustin Unified School District (TUSD) in Orange County will remain closed Nov. 13 while an assessment is made of the environmental impact on each campus from a fire that destroyed one of two massive World War II blimp hangars at the former Tustin Air Base.
“We have secured a certified asbestos consulting firm, Envirocheck, to conduct testing at all TUSD campuses,” District officials said. “Envirocheck is well-respected in the field of environmental inspection and analysis and we are grateful for their partnership. Their expertise in testing and remediation of environmental concerns will guide our next steps for reopening our campuses. Our top priority remains getting our students and staff safely back on campus.”
District officials said they are also working closely with the Orange County Health Care Agency, the South Coast Air Quality Management and the City of Tustin to determine when it will be safe for schools to reopen.
The District’s 27 campuses were also closed Thursday, a day after the fire, due to similar concerns. Schools were previously scheduled to be closed Friday in observance of Veterans Day.
A historic blimp hangar burns in Tustin, Calif., on Nov. 7, 2023. (Jae C. Hong/AP Photo)

A historic blimp hangar burns in Tustin, Calif., on Nov. 7, 2023. (Jae C. Hong/AP Photo)

District officials have categorized each campus, based on its distance from the burn site and the presence of fire debris. Those farthest away are labeled green, those somewhat closer are yellow and those in the immediate proximity have been categorized as red.
A complete breakdown is posted on the district’s website.
The Tustin District serves the cities of Tustin and Irvine, plus nearby unincorporated areas.
“As schools are cleared for a return to in-person instruction by Envirocheck, parents will be notified,” a District statement said. “This plan is fluid and all updates will be made in consultation with environmental experts and partners. We continue to be grateful to our students, families, staff, community, and partners for your patience, understanding, and support in working through the impacts of the North Hangar fire,”
It was unclear how the District’s plans will be affected by a flare-up at about 5:30 p.m. Saturday, four days after the initial fire.
Firefighters from the Orange County Fire Authority planned to let the flare-up burn itself out, as they did when the fire first erupted about 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Capt. Greg Barta told City News Service. Due to the size of the 17-story structure and difficulty of safely reaching the flames, Orange County Fire Authority crews opted to pull back and allow the massive wooden hangar at Valencia Avenue and Armstrong Road to burn, essentially consuming the structure.
“Please continue to stay out of the area,” the city and OCFA told residents on X, formerly Twitter. “Residents in the area should continue to keep their doors and windows closed as a precaution. We will continue to have our 24 hour fire watch personnel on site until further notice.”
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 an emergency proclamation and a call for residents to take precautions.
The Orange County Board of Supervisors will hold a special meeting Monday to consider ratifying the emergency proclamation, making it easier to deal with the health and environmental fallout from the fire.
A historic blimp hangar burns in Tustin, Calif., on Nov. 7, 2023. (Jae C. Hong/AP Photo)

A historic blimp hangar burns in Tustin, Calif., on Nov. 7, 2023. (Jae C. Hong/AP Photo)

On Friday, the Tustin City Council unanimously approved an agreement with the U.S. Department of the Navy to immediately begin to remediate impacts from the fire at the Base. The Navy owns the hangar property.
Final details were still being worked out, but the agreement calls for the U.S. Navy to provide immediate administrative assistance and an initial $1 million to correct health and safety impacts the fire has had on the Tustin community.
The agreement also includes asbestos assessment and remediation for Tustin residents and businesses and demolition of the hangar to stabilize the site.
During Friday’s emergency session, Tustin officials also announced plans to immediately expand cleanup services available from Envirocheck, which began fire debris assessment and cleanup activities in the Tustin community on Thursday.
The company has a phone number for Tustin residents and businesses with fire-related debris, which people should not touch on their own. It is 714-937-0750.
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
The two giant hangars were built in 1942 and once housed blimps used during 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.
They have been featured in television and films, including “JAG,” “The X-Files,” “Austin Powers,” “Pearl Harbor,” and “Star Trek.”
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 determine the cause of the fire was asked to call 714-573-3225. Orange County Crime Stoppers will accept anonymous tips at 855-TIP-OCCS (855-847-6227).
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