- THE MAGAZINE
In October 2003, massive wildfires caused tremendous damage across Southern California, reducing an area the size of Rhode Island to ash, destroying 2,500 homes and displacing more than a million people. One of these fires damaged the Valley View Casino in Valley Center, Calif., about nine miles north of Escondido. To remedy the situation, casino officials contacted Port Neches, Texas-based C&B Services.
A highway department crew stationed three blocks from the casino escorted Borel and LeJeune to the site. There was concern that high winds might push the blaze toward the casino, and the extra precautions the highway crew took to keep the C&B's employees from getting trapped in the path of the fire did not go unnoticed.
It was a sobering sight for LeJeune.
When the two arrived at the casino, they saw the fire had burned through an exterior wall causing fire, smoke, soot and water damage that covered nearly 75,000 square feet. In fact, the fire was still burning on the property, which made safety a critical issue at all times during the job.
Obviously, business interruption is a serious matter for a casino. In this case, Valley View was facing massive losses every day that visitors weren't there putting money in the machines. After the damage assessment, the C&B Services team and Managed Response, Inc., met with casino managers to develop a game plan.
C&B developed a precise scope of work that called for extensive planning and scheduling because of the unique nature of the facility being cleaned. Removing debris was the first order of business, which took about half a day. Fire had damaged one 8-by-12-foot section of the casino's exterior wall, along with several slot machines. Inside, the team concentrated on the extensive smoke damage and soot that covered virtually every surface in the 75,000-square-foot casino, from the floor to the rafters and everything in between.
One of the more crucial and time-consuming aspects of the recovery process was the taking apart and cleaning of all 1,150 slot machines in the casino. That task had to be coordinated with the scaffold position changes, so one would not interfere with the other.
The gaming tables also received special care, with two to three hours spent to clean and remove the acid-based soot from each station.
As it turned out, the computer room was at the opposite end of the casino from where most of the smoke damage had occurred, so a thorough air cleaning was all that was needed. The computer room had to be cooled down, a difficult task with no power. Portable lighting and generators were secured to power up the casino air conditioner for the cool-down. It was a challenge to find truck drivers willing to come to the casino for fear of getting trapped by the wildfires.
Working at a casino presented its own unique problems. Understandably, there were quite a few security issues. C&B officials met with the California Gaming Commission to get a clear understanding of the strict guidelines they had to follow since they were working around machines filled with the casino's money. Security put in place to monitor the team's comings and goings was also strict, and workers had to make sure they didn't block any security cameras or equipment. Initially, C&B employees had security escorts at all times, but that was relaxed to some extent after the company convinced casino and security officials that the restoration process was in danger of being slowed down.
Daily meetings between C&B and the casino's executive staff kept officials updated on the status of the cleanup. These communications played an important part in facilitating work in the high-security areas, and helped speed the recovery process. An outside expert's initial estimate was that it would take 23 days to get the casino in operation again. The C&B team completed the job in nine days, significantly reducing the financial losses Valley View suffered. Even after the casino reopened, C&B continued to work during slow times - 2 a.m. to 8 a.m. - to take care of minor damage and lingering smoke problems.
After the interior cleaning was complete, C&B power washed the exterior walls, parking lot and modular buildings that house administrative operations. Six buses used to transport patrons were cleaned and detailed. Thermal fogging was the final process, used to neutralize any and all remaining odors in the buildings and buses.
"There's no question this was a true team effort," C&B Services President Troy Crochet said. "Anyone who saw the damage that confronted our crew would be amazed that our people and the others who helped us could have gotten that facility up and running in nine days."
The next time members of the C&B catastrophe team decide to play the slots or take a run at the tables, it's safe to assume that Valley View will be on their minds.