During renovations on March 20, welders working on the kitchen duct work inadvertantly sparked a blaze that spread rapidly, completely destroying the entrance building of the Empress Casino
. The fire started at about 10 a.m. and was not declared under control until almost 10 p.m. that evening. Saturday found firefighters still putting water on hot spots throughout the destroyed structure. Firefighting efforts were hindered by the unique structural anomalies such as void spaces within the walls and ceilings which helped the fire spread. They did save the main casino structure with very little damage thanks to the quick thinking of firefighters who chopped the entrance pavilion away from the main building. The pavilion and entrance building held a gift shop, restaurant and offices.
Fire officials gave an early estimate of damages being $290 million for reconstruction costs and $50 million for replacing the contents of the building. Insurance estimates may go even higher.
Penn National Gaming runs the Empress and has said it will continue to pay displaced workers for at least 90 days as well as continuing their health benefits. The company has encouraged employees to volunteer within the community while waiting and many are doing so while they have the chance. Frank Quigley, the Empress general manager, expresses hope of reopening within that three month time frame.