Firefighters battle massive blaze in midtown Toronto through the night

Click to play video: 'Toronto firefighters continue to battle blaze at Yonge and St. Clair'
Toronto firefighters continue to battle blaze at Yonge and St. Clair
VIDEO: Toronto firefighters battle blaze at Yonge and St. Clair – Feb 14, 2017

A massive six-alarm fire destroyed a historic three-storey athletic club building in midtown Toronto and firefighters worked through the night to fully extinguish the flames.

More than 100 firefighters responded to the fire inside the The Badminton & Racquet Club of Toronto at 25 St. Clair Ave. W. just after 9 a.m. Tuesday.

“This is a very big fire, certainly one of the largest deployments of resources I’ve seen in Toronto in my time here,” Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg said at the scene.

He later said heavy excavation equipment had been called in Tuesday evening to help firefighters demolish the building to access the “seat” of the blaze and officials were “confident that the fire is contained.”

The fire was initially classified as a one-alarm but quickly escalated to a six-alarm just after 10:30 a.m. as flames spread to the roof of the building.

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“[It was] a very difficult and very hazardous firefight for our crews,” Pegg said, adding officials were concerned about the fire spreading to other buildings such as a 14-storey, 87-unit condominium that was also evacuated.

“The condition of the building involved in the fire continues to worsen so we’re still dealing with some very, very accelerated collapse potential, and very, very heavy fire.”

Pegg said the club had been completely evacuated as well as several nearby high-rises and storefronts and everyone had been accounted for. Firefighters are expected to remain at the site overnight until the fire can be fully extinguished.

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“We’re dealing with, in this case, a historic and old building surrounded by modern, new construction in a congested and dense area,” Pegg said.

“This is one of the challenges of dealing with firefighting in a heavy urban environment.”

Toronto Police Const. David Hopkinson said police had set up a command post and were assisting firefighters by keeping people away from the area and escorting heavy excavation equipment to the scene.

“If this turns out to be accidental, nothing is done, if it turns out that maybe this was deliberately set than we begin the investigative process in trying to find that person,” Hopkinson said.

“The chief has said the fire conditions are getting worse even though they have contained them, so we may see some other evacuations as we go through this this evening.”

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VIDEO: Fight against massive mid-town Toronto fire continues

Click to play video: 'Fight against massive mid-town Toronto fire continues'
Fight against massive mid-town Toronto fire continues

An email sent from racquet club management to its members Tuesday said it appeared the fire originated in the main lounge located in the south-east corner of the complex.

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“At this moment the full extent of the damage is unknown, but it will be substantial,” Paul Cadieux, chief operating officer of The Badminton & Racquet Club of Toronto, wrote.

“Toronto Fire Services have informed me that the Club will remain closed until the structural integrity of the building can be determined.”

One firefighter suffered a back injury and was taken to hospital as a precaution while another sustained minor injuries in a slip and fall accident.

“We’re dealing with an older structure, a structure that appears to be dealing with or involve a lot of combustible materials,” Pegg said.

“Walls are unstable and at risk of falling down. All of our firefighters have been removed and there’s no one operating inside the building. So all of our operations are from the exterior.”

Fire officials said there were no reports of any explosions and that crews were only concerned with the high volume of fire and smoke.

“We walked towards the window and we saw that there was a lot of really black and white smoke coming up from the buildings,” said eyewitness Steve Saylor, who was evacuated from a nearby business.

“I haven’t seen anything like this up close. It’s like a bonfire times a million. It’s just that kind of smell. It just kind of sticks in everything.”

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Meanwhile, city officials warned members of the public who do not live or work in the area to stay away from the fire scene and worked to set up temporary shelter for displaced residents.

Coun. Josh Matlow said during an evening press conference that a reception centre has opened at 55 St. Clair Ave. W. for those who have been evacuated and those who need overnight accommodation.

“This is the biggest team effort we’ve seen in a long time to deal with an extraordinary situation,” Toronto Mayor John Tory said at the scene.

“I want to say to all of the people involved that every element and every level of this — first responders and also city staff — thank you.”

Transit buses were ordered to shelter citizens displaced in the area. Subway service also bypassed St. Clair Station on the Yonge-University Line Tuesday and is expected to affect Wednesday’s morning commute.

The intersection of Yonge Street and St. Clair Avenue was also closed to traffic and public transportation had been diverted.

Alex Carter, a member of the club since 2009 who works in the area, said the facilities, staff and members are “all wonderful.”

“A real home away from home with an amazingly great, supportive community,” he said of the club, adding that there was a lot of sadness among members.

“I have nothing but amazing things to say about the club, which has appeared to have bad luck with a large water main leak two years ago and a sauna fire several years prior to that.”

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Carter added that one of Canada’s top squash Pro Am events was currently being held at the club, where professionals are paired with amateurs, and that the finals were set to be held Wednesday night.

Another member of the racquet club told Global News she is worried about the future of the establishment and whether it can rebuild after the fire.

“For many people they’d be terribly sad. It’s a wonderful family club, lovely people, it would just be devastating. Just so sad,” Jane McNabb said.

According to the club’s website, it was founded in 1924 and recently underwent extensive renovations. It is touted as “a preeminent Canadian private racquet, fitness, wellness and social club.”

Cadieux said members will be given access to facilities at the Royal Canadian Yacht Club and other clubs in the city until the situation is resolved.

With files from Christina Stevens and Mark Carcasole

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