Below is a running digest on Orange County fires and school closures. For official information on local fires, evacuations and road closures, be sure to follow the Orange County Fire Authority on X, formerly known as Twitter.
All but two Tustin Unified schools cleared to reopen; temporary relocations planned for remaining campuses
All but two campuses in the Tustin Unified School District have received the green light to reopen in the wake of the fire that destroyed one of the city’s twin massive airship hangars and prompted environmental concerns.
TUSD officials said students and staff from those two sites — Heritage Elementary School and Legacy Magnet Academy — will temporarily relocate to other district campuses starting Wednesday as they await clearance by a certified asbestos consulting firm.
On Nov. 8, Tustin Unified made the decision to close all of its schools after asbestos, carried in debris from the Tustin hangar fire, was discovered in the Tustin Legacy area. Since then, Envirocheck, the district’s asbestos consultant, has inspected nearly all campuses, deeming them safe to reopen. The current status of every TUSD campus can be found on the district’s website.
During the week of Thanksgiving, Beswick Elementary, Hillview High School, the Adult Transition Program, Nelson Elementary and Sycamore Magnet Academy all joined the list of campuses cleared to resume on-campus instruction starting Monday, Nov. 27. Officials said these sites were also undergoing a general cleaning.
Meanwhile, the two schools that are closest to the hangar fire site are still awaiting clearance.
Starting Wednesday, Nov. 29, Heritage Elementary classrooms will temporarily operate at other TUSD sites, including Ladera, Nelson, Peters Canyon, Myford, Red Hill, Hicks Canyon and Tustin Ranch elementary schools. Here’s how it will break down:
K & K/1 Combo
2nd & 1/2 Combo
For Legacy Magnet Academy, students and staff in grades six, seven and eight will be hosted at Utt Middle School, while grades nine through 12 will temporarily move to the Education Support Center (ESC), located at 1151 San Juan St. in Tustin.
“We are grateful to the staff and families at these elementary sites, in addition to Utt Middle School, Tustin Connect and the staff at the ESC for their willingness to welcome impacted students, staff and families,” Rina Lucchese, TUSD’s director of communications and community engagement, wrote in a statement. “The warm response and many ways in which we have already seen our community come together is nothing short of inspiring.”
Crews from multiple agencies continue to respond to reports of debris linked to the hangar fire, the cause of which remains under investigation.
Efforts underway to extinguish Tustin hangar fire hotspots and ensure public safety
Officials overseeing the Tustin hangar fire response announced Sunday that they were working to extinguish all remaining hotspots.
Heavy excavators were being used to clear debris, including the remaining wall, while water trucks were positioned to suppress the fire and control dust, the Incident Management Team said in a news release.
“At the present time, no action will be taken on the hangar doors or concrete pillars, which will be addressed upon completion of this first step,” the IMT said.
Meanwhile, air quality monitoring was to take place at 33 locations, following strict protocols from the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the South Coast Air Quality Management District
“This includes dust monitors around the immediate perimeter and sampling points around the property fence line, as well as several monitoring/sampling stations in the surrounding community,” the IMT said. “Particulate monitors will provide real-time data to be used throughout this process to ensure the safety of responders and the public.”
More than 20 Tustin Unified campuses have been cleared to reopen by the district’s asbestos consulting firm in the wake of the fire that destroyed one of two historic airship hangars. However, all TUSD schools are scheduled to be closed the week of Thanksgiving, along with campuses in the Santa Ana and Orange unified school districts.
Updated at 7:31 p.m. on Nov. 16, 2023
List of Tustin schools cleared to reopen grows to 18 ahead of Thanksgiving recess
As the Tustin Unified School District gets ready to break for the week of Thanksgiving, a total of 18 schools have been cleared to reopen by Envirocheck, the district’s asbestos consulting firm.
Officials announced Thursday that Estock Elementary and Tustin Connect K-8 have been added to the list and will resume on-campus instruction on Friday, Nov. 17.
On Nov. 8, Tustin Unified made the decision to close all of its schools after asbestos was found in the Tustin Legacy area from debris linked to the Tustin hangar fire.
A complete rundown of the campuses that are open — and those awaiting clearance — can be viewed on TUSD’s school status webpage.
Updated at 4:34 p.m. on Nov. 15, 2023
Beckman High, Heideman Elementary cleared to reopen on Thursday, Nov. 16
Beckman High and Heideman Elementary schools will resume in-person instruction on Thursday, Nov. 16, bringing the total number of Tustin Unified School District campuses cleared to reopen to 16.
In a statement released Wednesday, district officials said Beckman’s principal had notified families that the campus, which has an Irvine address, received the all-clear by Envirocheck, a certified asbestos consulting firm that’s working with TUSD. Heideman Elementary was also listed as cleared on a school status webpage.
On Nov. 8, Tustin Unified announced the closure of all campuses due to the discovery of asbestos in fire debris found in the Tustin Legacy area. Fourteen sites reopened Wednesday after being inspected by Envirocheck. Other campuses awaiting clearance will continue with virtual learning on Thursday, Nov. 16, TUSD said.
The cause of the fire that engulfed one of two massive blimp hangars at the former Marine Corps Air Station in Tustin remains under investigation.
Wednesday’s rainfall in Orange County was accompanied by lightning, which posed a safety risk for crews in the operational area, according to a news release. In accordance with the safety policies of the Orange County Fire Authority and other agencies, work at the site was suspended until Thursday morning.
Updated at 9:03 a.m. on Nov. 15, 2023
Tustin Unified reopens 14 campuses cleared by an environmental consulting firm
Schools that are in Tustin but administered by the Orange County Department of Education — they serve OCDE’s Alternative Education and Special Education divisions — also resumed in-person instruction on Wednesday.
Tustin Unified announced on Nov. 8 that all of its campuses would close after asbestos was identified in debris in the Tustin Legacy area, spread by the fire that overtook one of two massive airship hangars at the former Marine Corps Air Station in Tustin.
After outlining a comprehensive strategy for resuming in-person instruction on Sunday, the district put its plans on hold when the Incident Management Team coordinating the fire response said it was preparing for a “controlled and systematic teardown of the hangar structure.” A date has not yet been released for that demolition.
In addition to being cleared by the firm Envirocheck, which is a certified asbestos consulting firm, the 14 TUSD campuses that reopened on Wednesday have received a general cleaning, district officials said, and each is set to resume in-person instruction, athletics and activities. Elementary and middle schools will follow their regular Wednesday bell schedules; high schools will follow their Monday-Tuesday-Thursday-Friday bell schedules.
Campuses awaiting clearance will continue to provide virtual learning. Meanwhile, Envirocheck continues to conduct assessments.
All schools in Tustin Unified are scheduled to be closed the week of Thanksgiving.
“As we previously shared, this situation is extremely fluid and continuously evolves,” Tustin Superintendent Dr. Mark Johnson said in a statement on Tuesday. “Please know we are committed to getting information out as soon as we can in order to allow families to plan and that we, too, want all of our students and staff safely back on campuses.”
The City of Tustin says air monitoring units have been deployed around the hangar to monitor for dust and smoke. Currently, there are no areas showing unhealthful levels, and the monitoring shows no breathable asbestos in the air. If smoke or dust does drift through your area, the Orange County Health Care Agency advises taking precautions, including avoiding outdoor activities. The full list of safety tips is listed on the city’s North Hangar Fire Community Resource page.
While the hangar fire continues to smolder, rain is in the forecast for Tustin and the rest of Orange County on Wednesday, Nov. 15. And more precipitation is coming this weekend.
Detection and cleanup crews continue to be deployed into neighborhoods around the hangar site. With limited personnel, however, officials say the process will likely take some time to complete.
City of Tustin launches new call center and portal for reporting hangar debris
The City of Tustin has launched a new call center at 714-426-2444 to address community questions related to the Tustin hangar fire and cleanup efforts.
The call center is available starting today from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Outside of those hours, community members can leave messages that will be checked each morning, with follow-ups provided as needed.
The Incident Management Team that’s tasked with coordinating the fire response has also introduced a debris reporting portal that uses geographic information system (GIS) mapping to improve resource allocation efficiency. Debris that was previously reported through Envirocheck, an environmental testing firm, is being processed in the order received, and the data has migrated to the new portal.
The portal and call center aren’t limited to Tustin residents. Anyone who spots or suspects debris from the Tustin hangar fire, regardless of their location, is encouraged to use these resources.
Tustin district pauses return to on-campus instruction in response to new hangar fire developments
The Tustin Unified School District announced Monday evening that it will pause its plan for resuming on-campus instruction, citing new information from the Incident Management Team that’s coordinating the response to the Tustin hangar fire.
Over the weekend, TUSD unveiled a detailed plan to reopen schools that were closed after asbestos was found in hangar debris that scattered into a nearby park during the fire. Several campuses were scheduled to resume operations on Tuesday, Nov. 14, following clearance from a certified asbestos consulting firm.
But concerns based on recent fire activity have prompted officials to prepare for the controlled and systematic teardown of the hangar, with the exact date yet to be determined. As a precautionary measure, TUSD says it will pivot to virtual learning for all schools on Nov. 14. Detailed instructional plans will be communicated by school principals.
“Please know that based upon this evolving situation, it is possible that all TUSD schools will finish this week in virtual instruction,” Tustin Superintendent Dr. Mark Johnson said in a statement. “We will communicate updates as soon as we know more information.”
OCDE Alternative Education and Special Education campuses that are located within the Tustin district will also be closed until further notice.
The Incident Management Team, or IMT, is under the direction of the City of Tustin and working in coordination with the Orange County Fire Authority and other agencies.
In the wake of a fire that destroyed one of Tustin’s two historic airship hangars, debris containing asbestos, a hazardous material used in older 20th-century construction. was found in a city park, prompting the district to close its campuses on Thursday.
Over the weekend, Superintendent Dr. Mark Johnson said the district had contracted with Envirocheck, an environmental testing firm, and developed a reopening plan in partnership with the Orange County Health Care Agency, the South Coast Air Quality Management District and the City of Tustin.
By Saturday, Nov. 11, the district had categorized its campuses for asbestos testing, and several sites have since been cleared by Envirocheck. The cleared schools — Benson, Guin Foss, Loma Vista, Myford and Red Hill elementary schools, along with Hewes Middle School and Foothill High School — are set to resume on-campus instruction on Tuesday, Nov. 14.
For schools still awaiting clearance, the district will provide virtual learning for grades three through 12, while students in grades TK to two will work independently at home with learning packets. Teachers from schools pending clearance will also be available to address parent questions via email.
The district’s Food Services team is working on arrangements for food distribution, with detailed information to be shared with families soon, officials said.
All other Orange County school districts remain open with no reports of encroaching fire debris. The Orange Unified School District said it has implemented indoor schedules at campuses closest to Tustin as it performs more in-depth safety walks. This applies to the Jordan Academy of Language and Computer Science, California iInspire Academy, Santiago Charter Middle School, McPherson Magnet School and Chapman Hills, La Veta, Esplanade, Prospect, Panorama, Fairhaven and Villa Park elementary schools.
At the recommendation of the Orange County Health Care Agency and out of an abundance of caution, the City of Tustin has closed several parks and recommends that community members limit outdoor activities unless alerted otherwise. Residents can view a list of open and closed parks at www.tustinca.org/715/Parks-Information.
Updated at 6:25 p.m. on Nov. 11, 2023
Tustin Unified outlines comprehensive reopening plan after hangar fire and asbestos concerns
The Tustin Unified School District has unveiled plans to safely reopen its campuses in the aftermath of a fire that destroyed a massive airship hangar and raised concerns about the presence of asbestos in the area.
In a message posted today on the TUSD website, Superintendent Mark Johnson said Monday, Nov. 13, will be a non-student day for all Tustin schools. Meanwhile, the district has contracted with Envirocheck, a certified asbestos consulting firm, to conduct on-site inspections and testing at all campuses before clearing them to reopen.
“Our top priority remains getting our students and staff safely back on campus,” Johnson said.
The Orange County Department of Education’s Special Education and Alternative Education programs that serve students in the Tustin area will follow TUSD’s plan, providing remote learning options.
As we shared on Friday, the Orange County Health Care Agency has issued an urgent warning not to touch or disturb any debris from the fire that destroyed one of two World War II-era airship hangars on Tuesday. Tests conducted on debris found in the vicinity have revealed the presence of asbestos, a construction material from the 1930s through the 1970s that poses serious health risks. A public hotline has been set up to report any concerns at 714-426-2444.
Under Tustin’s reopening plan, campuses have been categorized based on their proximity to the burn site and the presence of fire debris. Once a school is cleared by Envirocheck, the district’s Maintenance and Operations staff will conduct a rigorous cleaning of all hard surfaces. Parents will receive notifications as each school site is cleared to reopen for in-person instruction.
Superintendent Johnson expressed his appreciation for the community’s patience and support. The district’s plan, he said, was developed in collaboration with the OC Health Care Agency, the South Coast Air Quality Management, the City of Tustin and Envirocheck.
“This plan is fluid and all updates will be made in consultation with environmental experts and partners,” he said.
County health officials warn residents not to touch hangar fire debris, citing asbestos concerns
Local health officials have an urgent message for Orange County residents who come across debris possibly linked to the fire that destroyed one of Tustin’s historic airship hangars: Don’t touch it.
Asbestos, a hazardous material used in construction from the 1930s through the 1970s, has been found in recovered debris from the former U.S. Navy hangar, which was built in 1942.
The Orange County Health Care Agency strongly advises caution in any areas where asbestos is found or suspected, as it poses serious health risks. Inhaling asbestos can increase the risk of lung disease or cancer, and ingestion can harm the stomach and intestinal lining.
Here’s what the HCA says to do if you suspect you’ve encountered debris from the fire:
Avoid touching or disturbing the materials unless you are trained to do so.
Use the city’s debris reporting portal to report debris or damage related to the Tustin hangar fire. Questions may be directed to a call center at 714-426-2444.
Avoid contact with fire debris or ash.
Use protective gear, including a mask and gloves, in areas with a high risk of asbestos exposure.
Remove shoes before entering your home if you’ve walked in areas where asbestos might be present.
Keep windows closed on windy days to prevent asbestos from entering your home.
Use water to clean your patio instead of sweeping.
Avoid using leaf blowers.
Wash ash off vehicles, outdoor toys, and furniture.
Clean ash off pets.
The County of Orange has declared a local emergency in response to the fire that destroyed one of two iconic hangars at the former Tustin Marine Corps Air Station on Tuesday, Nov. 7. The declaration is intended to assist the county’s efforts to secure resources to manage the fire’s aftermath.
On the day of the blaze, which prompted the closure of schools in the Tustin Unified School District, three bulk samples of debris were taken at Veterans Sports Park in Tustin. Asbestos was later detected in all three samples, at rates as high as 27 percent. Experts warn that the fibrous mineral is extremely difficult to identify and should only be handled by a certified asbestos consultant, or CAC.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District has also collected air samples near the hangar and in nearby communities, analyzing them for gaseous air toxics such as benzene. Results from these samples show levels that are consistent with air quality on a typical day.
Tustin Unified School District closes campuses due to conditions from hangar fire
The Tustin Unified School District announced late Wednesday that all of its campuses will be closed on Thursday, Nov. 9 due to environmental concerns after a fire destroyed one of two historic hangars at the former Marine Corps Air Station in Tustin.
The decision was made after the South Coast Air Quality Management District informed the district that debris found in the Tustin Legacy area tested greater than 1 percent positive for asbestos, TUSD officials said.
“With student and staff safety being our highest priority and in collaboration with the City of Tustin and the Orange County Health Care Agency (OCHCA), we made the decision to close all school campuses within Tustin Unified School District tomorrow, Thursday, November 9,” Tustin Unified posted on its website. “For tomorrow, no instruction will take place throughout the district. In addition, all preschools and daycares (Catalyst and YMCA) in TUSD will be closed tomorrow.”
While other Orange County districts are not expected to be impacted, they are remaining in close contact with local authorities and will continue to monitor air quality in the area.
The massive wooden hangar at the shuttered Tustin Marine Corps Air Station was one of two built in 1942 for the U.S. Navy.