Toronto Fire Services Chief Matthew Pegg says “very significant progress” has been made in battling a massive six-alarm fire that broke out at York Memorial Collegiate Institute in the city’s west end on Tuesday, causing part of the roof to collapse.
Firefighters were first called to the Trethewey Drive and Eglinton Avenue West-area school on Monday at around 2:15 p.m. for a fire that erupted in the auditorium. Flames could be seen coming from a second-storey window of the school, fire officials said.
The first fire, which reached a third alarm, was still under investigation when the second fire occurred. Police called the first fire suspicious.
Before 3:30 a.m. on Tuesday, fire erupted inside the school again. Fire officials said part of the ceiling and roof had collapsed, bricks had come loose and fallen. Firefighters were pulled off the roof due to safety concerns just before 8:30 a.m Tuesday.
Officials said residents south of Eglinton Avenue West between Trethewey Drive and Bicknell Avenue were advised to leave their homes Tuesday morning as the smoke plume travelled south. But changing wind directions throughout the day caused the smoke to blow to different areas, leading many to shelter in place.
Crews on scene battling the second six-alarm fire said the two blazes are “separate and distinct fires.”
Pegg said “it is very rare” that two fires would break out so close together in the same building.
“This is an extremely large building, there is a considerable volume of smoke and flame inside the building,” Pegg said Tuesday morning.
In an update Tuesday evening, Pegg said heavy equipment was being brought in order to “strategically” take parts of the building down in order to allow firefighters to put out hot spots. He noted the smoke plume was greatly reduced compared to the conditions crews faced in the morning.
The principal of York Memorial C.I. visited the scene and said the school’s official 90th anniversary was Monday. She said the school has a long-standing history with it’s name representing fallen soldiers from both world wars.
“This is going to be a heartbreak for many of us including myself,” said principal Donna Drummond. “This school has significant meaning.”
Other former school principals arrived at the scene including Suzana Greenaway who was a principal and vice-principal at York Memorial C.I. for 15 years.
“We’re going to have to cherish those memories because the building is gone… It’s just really hard to fathom.”
There is no word yet on what caused either of the fires, but Toronto police and Office of the Fire Marshal investigators remained at the scene throughout the day.
The TDSB said displaced students and staff from York Memorial C.I. who went to George Harvey Collegiate Institute are all being evacuated from the building due to smoke from the nearby fire. All classes for Tuesday are cancelled they said.
The board said Silverthorn CS, Keelsedale JPS and Charles E Webster PS were evacuated and parents were asked to pick up their kids. All other students and staff will be relocated to Oakwood C.I. for the day.
The TDSB said classes for George Harvey CI and York Memorial C.I. students on Wednesday have been cancelled. Air quality tests are being conducted at Silverthorn CS, Keelsedale JPS and Charles E Webster PS schools and an update on classes will be provided Wednesday morning.