Historic WWII-era hangar in Southern California destroyed by fire

November 8, 2023

Hangar fire leads to building collapse strategy

A historic World War II-era hangar in Southern California was engulfed in flames early Tuesday morning (7 November), resulting in a total loss of the wooden structure.

The Orange County Fire Authority reported that the blaze at the Tustin hangar, a site known for its massive size and historical significance, could continue burning for days.

Firefighting tactics adapted to hangar fire challenges

Responding to the emergency around 1 a.m., firefighters faced a dynamic situation with the threat of the building’s imminent collapse.

The Fire Authority outlined their approach: “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’s intensity led to a tactical decision to let the hangar collapse, facilitating safer conditions for ground crews to manage the situation.

The strategy stemmed from the challenges presented by the hangar’s size and the fire’s scale.

The flames, which caused the hangar’s curved roof to disintegrate in sections, produced a vast plume of smoke that was visible for an extended distance.

Historical significance lost in hangar fire

No casualties were reported in the incident, which saw the structure burn into the evening.

“With all that in mind, it’s a sad day for the city of Tustin and all of Orange County,” said Fire Chief Brian Fennessy.

He confirmed the good fortune of no injuries and the operational capacity to address the fire without endangering firefighters, although the effort may take several days.

The Tustin hangar, identified as the north hangar, was one of two constructed in 1942 and was among the largest wooden buildings ever made.

After serving the U.S. Navy and later the Marine Corps, the hangar closed in 1999 but remained under the ownership of the Navy.

The north hangar had been out of use since a 2013 windstorm caused significant roof damage.

The hangar was not just a part of military history; it served as a backdrop for various Hollywood productions and commercials, underscoring its cultural as well as historical value.

It was also recognized as a significant engineering landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

FSJA Comment

The loss of the WWII-era hangar in Southern California is a blow to both historical preservation and community memory.

The hangar stood as a testament to the innovation and needs of a different era, its immense size a reminder of the scale at which wartime efforts operated.

For current generations, it served as a tangible connection to the past and a versatile space for cultural expression.

Its destruction removes a piece of history, one that was recognized for its engineering marvel and played a role in America’s defense history.

The event also serves as a reminder of the challenges that firefighters face when dealing with fires in large and aging structures, highlighting the complexities of such operations and the strategies required to manage them safely.

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