Fire crews still battling 'slow, stubborn' blaze at popular Scarborough rec centre

"The areas we need to get at are just really hard to reach, nearly impossible," said Mike McCoy, deputy chief of operations at the Toronto Fire Service.

Fire is not yet under control, Toronto Fire Service says

Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg posted this image of the ice-laden building to social media. (@ChiefPeggTFS/Twitter)

Firefighters continued to battle a "stubborn" fire inside the Agincourt Recreation Centre in Scarborough on Friday, their efforts hampered by the layout of the building and the thickness of its wooden roof. 

"This has been an extremely difficult firefighting operation," said Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg at the scene.

Pegg held up a two inch-thick piece of wood that was cleaved from the roof inside the building, near the pool. He explained that the rec centre's roof consists of the timber ceiling, then as much as 12 to 14 inches of fibreboard that is covered with decking and shingles.

The fire is burning inside the roof itself, meaning crews have to peel layers away to try to access it. The process has been slow and frustrating, Pegg said.

"We can't leverage technology to do this. It's manual labour," he explained. "We are literally chasing fire across this roof and we just can't get at it."

Besides a difficult structural situation, crews endured frigid temperatures all night. They were forced to thaw out equipment on TTC shelters buses at various points during the fight. 

"Everything that we use is immediately freezing," Pegg said. "As soon as they shut a hose line off, it's freezing."

The fire, which is currently a three-alarm but reached five-alarm status at its peak, is not yet under control, according to  Mike McCoy, deputy chief of operations at the Toronto Fire Service.

"We've been doing the same thing all night. It's a long, slow stubborn fire. It never really gets ripping, but we can't seem to get it extinguished entirely either," he told CBC Toronto from the scene.

"The areas we need to get at are just really hard to reach, nearly impossible,"

Fire crews spent hours trying to reach the areas still burning in the building's roof. (@BradRossTO/Twitter)

The blaze broke out shortly before 5 p.m. on Thursday. It was reported to emergency responders that it had started in the building's mechanical room, but Toronto Fire cautioned that its origin has not been determined. 

The building was evacuated and no injuries were reported. 

The recreation centre, located in the Glen Watford Drive and Rural Avenue area, includes a pool and a hockey arena. McCoy said the fire has not spread to the arena and he does not expect it to.

Chlorine from the pool area and ammonia from the rink were secured shortly after firefighters arrived at the scene, Pegg said.

Crews are expected to be on scene throughout the day Friday and possibly on Saturday as well.

The City of Toronto recreation centre is one of two leisure pools in Scarborough, and is also home to a number of local sports clubs. Brad Ross, spokesperson for the city, said that the centre sees 3,000 registrations for its winter programming alone and offers more than 400 different programs and classes at any given time.

Ross said it will be impossible to determine the future of those offerings until firefighters can assess the damage,

"It won't be until then that we'll be able to say what we can restart and will be cancelled for the long haul," he said. 

According to Pegg, the part of the structure that houses the pool area has sustained the most serious damage. 

At the fire's peak, 130 firefighters and 37 vehicles were involved in the effort to contain the blaze. (CBC)

Karen Chapman takes her four-year-old daughter skating at the recreation centre, which has two indoor rinks. She says the damage is a "big loss" to the local community.

"I think this fire will remind people about how important these community centres are because a lot of people go there, a lot of people rely on them," she said, adding that she feels for employees who may be impacted by the blaze. 

Meanwhile, the Toronto District School Board said students at the nearby Alexander Mackenzie Secondary Public School will be relocated to Agincourt Collegiate Institute on Friday.

Similarly, the Toronto Catholic board says that "out of abundance of caution" about the faint smell of smoke at St. Bartholomew, staff and students will be moved to St. Ignatius of Loyola for the day. 

With files from Linda Ward


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