DKI Public Sector Case Studies

Smoke Damage Restoration During California’s Thomas & Woolsey Fires – Nearly 70 Schools Affected

Public Sector Services


Santa Barbara, CA

The Thomas Fire, which concluded the nation’s costliest year of wildfires in 2017, consumed more than 1,000 structures throughout Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, all within 15 to 30 minutes north of our DKI member company. While the fire was in progress, the DKI Team received a call from the maintenance director from the Santa Paula Unified School District (SPUSD) asking them to inspect a few schools in the proximity to the fire that may have been affected by smoke odor, soot and ash intrusion.

11 months later, the Woolsey Fire spread 20 to 30 minutes south of our member’s office, at the boundary between Los Angeles and Ventura counties, and destroyed over 1,600 properties. Due to the work the DKI Team had performed due to the damages from the Thomas Fire, they received a familiar call from the Ventura County Office of Education (VCOE).


The DKI Team responded to both fires similarly, since initial strategy with the Thomas Fire proved successful. While the former job originally required only a few schools to be inspected, it quickly grew to assisting 13 schools within two districts. The scope of work for the Thomas Fire consisted of: HEPA vacuuming, wet wiping of all contents and surfaces, carpet cleaning, air scrubbers, HVAC cleaning, deodorization, and power washing of the exterior structures and play areas. Since it also included larger schools with 35-foot ceiling gyms and auditoriums with performance stages and crow’s nests, the team required additional equipment for these remaining schools, including bringing in scissor lifts and laying down Ram board and plywood to protect the hardwood floors.

Nearly 40 schools were in need of smoke and fire restoration during the Woolsey Fire – all of which were larger than those worked on for the Thomas Fire. The scope of work consisted of: full cleaning and deodorization but varied, and some schools also required refrigeration system cleaning. In addition to its scope of work for smoke damage, one of the schools, Malibu High, also required immediate water and mud remediation after an active mudslide, three weeks later, flooded six of its classrooms.

To complete the scope of work in all affected school districts and meet the tight timelines, the DKI Team determined they would need additional help and hired temporary workers within the community, including retired firefighters, independent contractors and parents of children who attended the affected schools. The DKI Team also contacted local restoration companies to hire professional project managers to help run some of the schools. Through their recruiting efforts, the DKI Team hired 50 additional people to assist during the Thomas Fire, and over 600 laborers who helped during the Woolsey Fire.

For each school, the DKI Team, including their temporary help, broke into groups to tackle each affected classroom. Each group spent roughly 60 to 90 minutes cleaning each classroom, then a separate team would follow up on each finished room and cover any details that may have been missed. During this time, air scrubbers and HVAC cleaning took place simultaneously.

Because of the continuous smoke, ash and winds surrounding the schools, the DKI Team also sealed up each room and ran hydroxyls, which created a slight positive pressure and kept up with any potential intrusion of smoke odor.

To further prevent smoke intrusion and fully remove any lingering smoke odors, the DKI Team also persuaded the adjuster to approve their use of SteraMist. This not only removed odors, but also sanitized each room – leaving them cleaner than ever before – and deodorized several hundred thousand square feet of porous ceiling tile and insulation material, which typically would need to be replaced. This last benefit alone allowed the DKI Team to help save the insurance company millions of dollars!!

Apart from the challenges and distractions (continuous smoke, heavy equipment needs, hotspots and mudslides) along the way, the DKI Team managed each project for both fires thoroughly and completed their scope of work on time. In total, the DKI Team restored, cleaned, deodorized, and/or set equipment in 68 schools within five school districts, returning over 30,000 students and staff safely back to school, with only seven to 12 school days missed.