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Teardown plan in the works for remnants of historic Tustin hangar destroyed in fire

Authorities are working on a plan to tear down what remains of the giant World War II-era Tustin hangar, where flareups continue after an overnight fire that destroyed the towering structure.

Officials from the Environmental Protection Agency, the South Coast Air Quality Management District, the Orange County Health Care Agency, the U.S. Navy and Tustin were meeting to discuss the teardown plan. The west hangar, one of two used to house blimps during World War II, continues to smolder more than a week after the Nov. 7 fire.

A timeline on the teardown wasn’t immediately available.

“Although the fire is still slowly consuming more of the hangar, a controlled and systematic teardown of the remaining structure is being prepared,” the city said in a Tuesday update. “The exact date and time of the teardown has not been determined. Building engineers need to ensure the teardown process considers the weather, the amount of the building remaining, and any dustup from the work. The moment we have a confirmed date and time, it will be announced.”

The flareups also led to school closures early this week, but several campuses reopened Wednesday. The district originally planned to reopen some schools on Tuesday, but Allyson Muniz Damikolas, the vice president of the Tustin Unified School Board, told City News Service school officials reversed course on Monday due to the advice they were getting about the air quality.

“Nobody wants to close schools,” Damikolas told City News Service. “I want schools opened as fast as possible and as safely as possible.”

The city has asked residents to report anything they think could be debris from the fire here.

The Orange County Board of Supervisors had a special meeting Monday and unanimously ratified an emergency proclamation, making it easier to deal with the health and environmental fallout. Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairman Don Wagner explained why firefighters did not attack the blaze from the air, saying it would have caused more harm than good.

“It was an unfortunate reality of this tragedy,” Wagner said.

Flare-ups began Saturday, four days after the 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, Capt. Greg Barta told City News Service. Due to the size of the 17-story structure and difficulty of safely reaching the flames, OCFA crews opted to pull back and allow the massive wooden hangar at Valencia Avenue and Armstrong Road to burn, essentially consuming the structure.

The Navy owns the hangar property. The nearly 1,600-acre property was commissioned in 1942 and played a significant role in Navy and Marine aviation for half a century. In 1999, the air base was closed.

A re-use plan was developed in 1996 and the city was working with the Navy on implementing that plan.

The North Hangar’s roof was damaged in October 2013 during a powerful windstorm. The Navy stabilized the roof following the storm, but the building remained closed.

The South Hangar was not damaged in the overnight fire. Also known as Hangar 2, the building near Warner Avenue and Tustin Ranch Road is being evaluated for future use.

They were, and still are, two of the largest wooden structures ever built, according to the website Tustin Hangars.

The hangars have been featured in television and films, including “JAG,” “The X Files,” “Austin Powers,” “Pearl Harbor” and “Star Trek.”

Anyone with information that might help investigators determine the cause of the fire was asked to call 714-573-3225.

Source: NBC Los Angeles

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