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5-alarm blaze at north-end Toronto highrise extinguished, fire chief says

WATCH ABOVE: Fire Chief Matthew Pegg said Friday evening that an elevator system at a Toronto apartment building where firefighters were battling a five-alarm blaze had "failed," but that they've received no reports of anyone trapped in the building.

Toronto Fire Services Chief Matthew Pegg says a large five-alarm fire at a north-end apartment building has been extinguished.

“There was a heavy volume of flames [firefighters] had to deal with and as a consequence a significant amount of smoke,” he said Friday evening.

Emergency crews were called to the 15-storey apartment building on Gosford Boulevard, west of Jane Street and south of Steeles Avenue West, just before 5:30 p.m.

READ MORE: 4-alarm fire breaks out at Toronto highrise building

A Toronto Fire Services spokesperson said a unit on the seventh floor, two units on the eighth floor and a unit on the ninth floor at the back of the building were fully involved in flames. Several people in the building reported smoke entering their units.

Pegg said that firefighters were able to get access to the fire before 8 p.m. and “gained an upper hand,” but it wasn’t until 9:30 p.m. that Pegg said the fire was under control. Less than two hours later, Pegg said in a message on Twitter that the blaze was extinguished.

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A Toronto Paramedics spokesperson reported a person was taken to hospital with serious, but non-life-threatening injuries. Pegg said six people in total had to be rescued from the building, noting five of those people were assessed at the scene by paramedics.

Approximately 100 firefighters and 22 trucks responded to the scene and Pegg said the loss of elevators made it difficult for crews, forcing them to manually haul equipment up the stairs.

“They’re tired, they’re soaking wet from the firefighting operation … I can’t say enough about the amount of effort that has gone in tonight,” he said.

Firefighters battle five-alarm fire at north-end Toronto apartment building
Firefighters battle five-alarm fire at north-end Toronto apartment building

Pegg said approximately 700 people live inside the highrise. TTC buses were ordered to the scene to act as shelter for those affected.

Vanessa Watkins said she lives on the 11th floor of the building with her 21-year-old daughter. She said she was on her way home when the fire broke out, noting her daughter called her after seeing the smoke and when the fire alarm went off.

“She said, ‘Mom, it’s getting worse. It’s getting worse.’ She ran out in the balcony and she looked over and she saw the flames coming out. She was on the phone with me and I started screaming at her, ‘Get out of the unit,'” Watkins said.

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“I just watched it go up, and up, and up, and now by the looks of it I’ve got nothing.

“At the end of the day, I’ve lost everything but she’s safe.”

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Maria Vidal told reporters she lives near the building. She said she could hear people screaming from her apartment, adding she felt “helpless.”

“You can’t do anything. It’s not like I can go up there and save those people because their entire apartment is up in flames, and they’re screaming, ‘Help,’ from the balcony,” she said.

Mayor John Tory and Pegg announced displaced residents would be able to go the Driftwood Community Centre Friday night. It was being opened with the assistance of the Canadian Red Cross.

READ MORE: Blaze that left 2 Toronto firefighters injured deemed arson, suspect wanted

“We will do everything we can without our power to get people in their suites as soon as possible,” Pegg said.

“We’ll make sure those people are looked after as best as we can,” Tory added, noting he came to the scene to meet with building residents and to thank first responders.

As of Friday night, it wasn’t clear how the fire began and where exactly it originated. Pegg said it wasn’t safe for investigators to access the affected units.

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Officials said crews still need to get into the building to determine what residents will be able to return to their units, and to assess if power and utility systems will be able to function.

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