by: Will ConybeareCarlos Herrera

A hangar at a historic air base in Orange County went up in flames early Tuesday morning, and dozens of firefighters are still fighting the blaze. 

According to the Orange County Fire Authority, the fire broke out around 1 a.m. at the Marine Corps Air Station in Tustin. 

As of 4:30 a.m. Tuesday, the hangar was still burning with fire officials concerned that the structure will completely collapse.

“It’s definitely not a normal fire, but today because of the complex fire operation, our incident commanders decided that they are going to use helicopters along with the truck companies,” said OCFA Captain Thanh Nguyen, noting that helicopters are usually deployed for large brush fires. “Our firefighters are situated outside [the hangar] and they are placing their units in the most advantageous spots to get water into the structure. Then, should the building collapse, they are not in the line of fire.”

Several of the base’s hangars were on fire by the time first responders arrived to battle the blaze, with the north hangar, also known as Hangar 1, reportedly being completely engulfed. 

Firefighters immediately went into defensive mode to prevent the flames from spreading to nearby structures, and crews were seen battling the blaze from the ground and by air.

A second and then a third alarm were dispatched, with fire crews from Anaheim and Costa Mesa assisting in the firefight. 

At a news conference Tuesday morning, Orange County Fire Authority Chief Brian Fennessy noted that the property does belong to the U.S. Navy, and that the investigation will eventually be turned over to them.

Drivers in the area who witnessed the blaze were stunned to see the iconic air base burn to the ground. 

“It’s a huge landmark and to see them disappearing like this is kind of shocking,” one man, only identified as James, told KTLA 5’s Carlos Herrera

That man quickly texted his friend, who stopped making food to come and see the blaze himself. 

“I saw the text and I drove out immediately,” he said. “I’m dying to know what’s going on.”

Another man, who happens to be a native of Tustin, saw the flames from his dormitory at UC-Irvine and rushed to the scene.

“To have [the hangar] burn down is a tragedy,” Connor Ruffallo said. “It’s a piece of history that we are losing today.”

The twin blimp hangars – which measure 17 stories tall, 1,000 feet long and 300 feet wide – have been at Warner Avenue in Tustin since World War II and were known as the home port for enormous fleets of helicopters. They were decommissioned in 1999.  

They are two of the world’s largest freestanding wooden structures and both are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

In addition, the hangars have been used in several prominent TV shows and were even the site of a half marathon, the Tustin Hangar 5K.

What started the blaze remains under investigation. No injuries have been reported.