Canadian Underwriter

At least 150 firefighters respond to Toronto school blaze

May 7, 2019   by THE CANADIAN PRESS

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TORONTO – A large fire at a Toronto high school caused part of the building’s roof to collapse, forced area residents from their homes and sent large plumes of smoke over the neighbourhood, authorities said Tuesday as crews worked to put out the blaze.

No injuries were reported at what was the second fire in as many days at the York Memorial Collegiate Institute.

“It’s a very, very heavy fire, very heavy smoke, and very complicated and challenging operation for us,” Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg said at the scene, noting that the thick, grey smoke led to the decision to ask residents in surrounding homes to leave.

Firefighters said they were called out to the high school at 3:24 a.m. Tuesday, about 13 hours after they were called to a separate, earlier blaze at the building.

Crews were called to that first fire at 2:13 p.m. Monday and had the blaze under control by 4:35 p.m. before declaring it put out in a few hours, said Capt. David Eckerman.

By Tuesday afternoon, at least 150 firefighters were at the scene of the second blaze, which had turned into a six-alarm fire, officials said. Both fires involved the school’s historic auditorium.

The school’s principal, fighting tears, was at the scene early Tuesday morning to talk about the building that was first opened in 1929. It was built to honour youth killed in the First World War, according to the school’s website.

“The auditorium was the reflection of that great sacrifice that we’ve done,” said principal Donna Drummond.

Two former principals of the school also showed up.

“It’s devastating,” said Suzana Greenaway, a principal at the school from 2007 to 2017. “It’s really hard to find the appropriate words to describe the emotions. ”

David Drew attended the school beginning in 1959 and later became its principal from 1995 to 2001.

“It’s heartbreaking, it really is,” Drew said. “I loved the school.”

Mayor John Tory offered support to first responders at the scene.

“It’s very sad, this is a school that is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year,” Tory told reporters. “It’s very much a fixture in this community.”

About 900 students along with staff left the school unhurt after Monday’s fire and were sent to nearby George Harvey Collegiate Institute for Tuesday’s classes, the Toronto District School Board said. But that school, along with two others, were evacuated later Tuesday as a precaution due to the heavy smoke in the area.

Toronto police Supt. Ron Taverner said he’s concerned the fire may be suspicious and officers are investigating. Pegg said the province’s Fire Marshal’s office is also investigating.


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