Massive Toronto athletic club fire under control, not considered suspicious

Click to play video: 'Aerial view of firefighters battling hotspots after massive Toronto athletic club fire'
Aerial view of firefighters battling hotspots after massive Toronto athletic club fire
WATCH ABOVE: Aerial view of firefighters battling hotspots after massive Toronto athletic club fire – Feb 15, 2017

Fire officials say a six-alarm blaze that tore through a historic three-storey athletic club in midtown Toronto and forced the evacuation of surrounding buildings is not considered suspicious.

“At approximately 5:45 a.m. our incident command team formally declared this incident under control,” Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg said during a media briefing at the scene Wednesday morning. “We made a lot of progress over the course of our evening operations.”

READ MORE: Firefighters battle massive blaze in midtown Toronto through the night

Residents of condominiums near the scene of the fire remain displaced and storefronts are still closed as firefighters continue to pour water on hot spots. But it is expected many will be allowed back as early as this evening.

“As long as the work continues as it has right now, most if not all of the buildings will be reoccupied sometime in the early evening today,” Deputy Fire Chief Jim Jessop said.

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READ MORE: Toronto athletic club fire highlights importance of contents insurance, experts say

“We still have some air quality issues in some of the adjoining buildings and higher levels of carbon dioxide then we would like. That’s why we’re still restricting access right now but Toronto Fire is ventilating those buildings.”

Pegg said electricity and natural gas service is disconnected in the area and won’t be restored until the buildings are deemed safe. He added that there was a large quantity of water near the scene of the fire that had infiltrated hydro vaults in the adjoining structures.

VIDEO: Getting back to business after the midtown Toronto fire. Tom Hayes reports. (Feb. 15)

Click to play video: 'Getting back to business after the midtown Toronto fire'
Getting back to business after the midtown Toronto fire

“I will tell you right now it is not suspicious,” Toronto Fire deputy chief Jim Jessop told reporters Wednesday afternoon.

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“The Office of the Fire Marshall and Toronto Fire investigators continue their preliminary stages of the investigation. … So it is way too early to even suggest what a cause could be.”

At the height of the fire on Tuesday, more than 100 firefighters were dispatched to Yonge Street and St. Clair Avenue East to contain the massive blaze which destroyed The Badminton & Racquet Club of Toronto.

Massive damage to racquet club

The inferno, which began just after 9 a.m., was eventually classified as a six-alarm fire with around 40 fire trucks on scene. No injuries were reported as a result of the fire.

After finally being allowed access to the interior of the club to inspect the damage, Jessop said it looked “like a bomb went off” and the damage was “astronomical.”

“I highly doubt there’s going to be a lot of salvageable building left there,” Pegg said, adding that the “defensive” approach to the fire helped avert further damage.

“Our crews were able to prevent a very large fire from spreading into the adjoining structures and that was our number one goal after we had secured the safety of residents and firefighters.”

VIDEO: Fire crews remain on scene of midtown fire fighting hot spots

Click to play video: 'Fire crews remain on scene of midtown fire fighting hot spots'
Fire crews remain on scene of midtown fire fighting hot spots

Adjacent buildings were evacuated and many residents had to make alternative arrangements for accommodations during the night. The city also opened up a reception centre nearby with the Red Cross on site to help.

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“The city through the Office of Emergency Management did provide accommodation for four people. Most were able to stay with family and friends,” Pegg said.

Large excavation equipment was brought in Tuesday evening to help firefighters demolish the building and get at the hot spots.

“We experienced a number of partial collapses over the course of operations yesterday and again overnight,” Pegg explained.

“There are lots of instability issues there. That’s being carefully monitored. Our engineers have been engaged along with Toronto Building, so our crews will continue to monitor that.”

Fire officials said that despite the extensive damage to the club itself, the adjacent buildings and businesses were largely spared from the blaze.

“There’s no indication of any structural damage that we have seen. There will be minor smoke migration,” Jessop said.

“The water that we have seen in the basements surround has been limited. So I would suspect, apart from maybe the odd one closest to the fire, the impact on businesses will be minimal.”

Public transit and road closures

Public transit and road closures in effect on Tuesday were partially reopened and back in service on Wednesday.

Yonge Street is open north of St. Clair Avenue in both directions and westbound St. Clair Ave West is open to traffic between Avenue Road and Avoca Avenue.

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St. Clair West subway station, which was closed for the better part of Tuesday, is back in service. However, the fire operation is still diverting the 97 Yonge buses.

Fire officials said they hope to scale down operations by the evening commute to further open lanes of traffic in the area.

Racquet club fire investigation

Pegg said Wednesday they won’t be able to pinpoint the exact cause of the fire until investigators get a chance to examine the structure and debris.

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

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Pegg said the athletic club was partially equipped with a sprinkler system but would not speculate if that may have contributed to the spread of the fire.

“It’s impossible for me to guess at this point. Our investigation team will include an engineering analysis and all of those determinations will be made,” he said.

The estimated cost of the damage is also unknown but Deputy Chief Jessop said the figure will likely be high.

“A large portion of the club has been destroyed. I don’t think it’s unrealistic to suggest we’re into seven figures or at least $1 million worth of damage,” he said.

Jessop said the investigators for the Ontario Fire Marshal’s office have arrived on scene.

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

Firefighters working overtime

With more than 100 firefighters on scene at the height of the fire, Pegg said it put a huge strain on crews who were shuffled around during the day and evening hours.

“Everybody is exhausted. No one ended up where they started yesterday,” he said.

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“There’s been a lot of logistical challenges because when we’re doing relief, we can move the crews around but the trucks that are pumping water have to stay. So we ended up with a lot of crews on alternate trucks in different parts of the city.”

Many took to social media to praise the efforts of first responders who spent hours battling the blaze.


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