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California Fires Affect Club Industry

SAN DIEGO, CA—The fires raging in several Southern California counties has caused closures of some clubs, mostly due to poor air quality or the threat of fire.

The 24 Hour Fitness corporate office is in San Ramon, CA, in Northern California and is unaffected by the fires, but the fires in Southern California caused the company to close 20 of its clubs in Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego and Ventura counties, according to Danny De La Rosa, divisional president, southwest, for 24 Hour Fitness. Closures began on Sunday. Three of the 17 clubs that were closed in San Diego County were in the direct path of the fire, says De La Rosa, but the wind changed direction in time to move the fire in another direction and save the clubs. As of today, just one club remained closed.

“We were fortunate that none of the clubs were burned,” says De La Rosa, but the home of one staff member was destroyed by the fire.

24 Hour’s crisis team began communicating with employees and members as soon as the fire danger was apparent. Members could call hot line numbers for information about club closures, and staff could call for information about club closings, schedules and whether their pay would be affected on the days the clubs were closed. The team held conference calls every 2 hours during the first few days of the fires but now are communicating every 6 hours with the general managers, district managers and regional managers at the affected clubs.

“Our process served us well to take care of employees,” De La Rosa says.

Club Paradise in Fallbrook, CA, also was affected by the fires. The city of about 45,000 was evacuated on Monday to Camp Pendleton, CA, but Mark Raymond, assistant manager to operations, stayed in town to operate the main club location.

“We left it open for emergency purposes so firefighters can shower and get in a workout,” Raymond says. “We are allowing members to come in with the understanding that air quality is not that great, but it is better inside due to our air conditioning and air filtration system.”

He closed the company’s express club after the home of the manager of the express club was destroyed in the fire.

About 15 members who didn’t heed the evacuation order have come into the main club since Monday. Most of them come to talk about the fire and get updates, says Raymond. At least one firefighter has used the facility to shower.

Raymond is keeping the owner of the facility, Brian Hansen, updated on the status of the fire and the clubs. He can see the fires in the surrounding area from a high spot in town where many of the locals have gathered. He also sees a lot of activity from the windows of the club.

“I can see the [fire] trucks coming in, the National Guard coming in,” Raymond says. “We’re all windows. I had all my lights on as a beacon. I had a lot of people coming up to ask general questions like, ‘Where do I go?’”

The 4 Women Only Fitness Center in Poway, CA, was about two to three miles from one of the fires but was untouched by it, says Lori Golia, director at 4 Women Only Fitness Center. The club was open today for the first time since Sunday but all classes are still canceled. The fires around the facility are contained now.

“Around us they are contained, but the air quality is the pits,” Golia says.

The Powerhouse Gym in Temecula, CA, has remained open, but attendance has been slow, according to the receptionist at the facility. The facility isn’t in the path of any of the fires, but one of the fires is on a hill a few miles from the facility.

Even some facilities closer to the coastline are being affected by the fires. First Class Fitness Center in Oceanside, CA, was closed for two days this week due to poor air quality, according to the receptionist there. However, the facility is open today.

So far, no reports have come in of any fitness facilities being damaged by the fires.

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) is based in San Diego about 10 miles from one of the major fires, says Kristie Spalding, spokesperson for ACE. Although the certifying agency’s building was not in the direct line of the fires, the agency did close the office on Monday and Tuesday because several of the 50 staff members lived in areas being evacuated or in areas of high alert. The building was available to any staff member who needed a place to stay, Spalding says, and at least two families (and a cat) took refuge there.

“Even up until today, we’ve had staff waiting to hear to go back [to their homes],” Spalding says. All staff members are safe and those who have returned to their homes in formerly evacuated areas have found their homes intact, she says.

Even some manufacturers are being affected by the fires. Star Trac has factories in Irvine, CA, and Murietta, CA, that weren't directly threatened by the fires but experienced significant smoke and ash debris, says Christen Lewis, spokesperson with Star Trac. The Irvine facility, which is between the Malibu fires and the San Diego fires (about 40 minutes to an hour away in each direction), is experiencing thick smoke haze that caused a yellow glow to everything for a time.

"It was very eerie," Lewis says.

Many of the clubs affected by the fires are opening for evacuees and firefighters to shower and work out to relieve stress, although Spalding cautions about working out too strenuously in areas with poor air quality. 24 Hour Fitness also donated some of its APEX nutritional products to the Red Cross.

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