Fire at York Memorial Collegiate Institute upgraded to 6-alarm

Several schools in the area of Eglinton Avenue West and Keele Street are being evacuated as thick black smoke continues to pour from York Memorial Collegiate Institute.

The high school is on fire for the second time in two days after a blaze broke out in the early hours of Tuesday morning — just a few hours after a fire at the school was believed to be under control.

The fire, which was called in by fire crews at about 3:30 a.m. on Tuesday, was upgraded to a six-alarm fire as of 10:15 a.m. The number of alarms indicates how many trucks and firefighters have been deployed to the scene.

The Toronto District School Board says George Harvey Collegiate Institute, Silverthorn Community School and Keelesdale Junior Public School are all being evacuated due to smoke.

A section of Eglinton Avenue West was also earlier in the morning. No injuries have been reported.

At 2:45 p.m. Tuesday, Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg said there was no estimate as to when the fire might be extinguished.

Pegg said it appears that the fire on Tuesday is separate from the fire on Monday.

“While this is the same building we were at yesterday, all indications are that the fire we are dealing with now is separate and distinct,” he added.

First call came Monday afternoon

Fire crews were first called to the 90-year-old school on Monday afternoon, and the fire was believed to be in hand within a few hours.

Toronto Fire Capt. David Eckerman says crews called a second alarm early Tuesday morning after doing heat checks in the school.

“Even yesterday it was understood that fire was in the walls and ceilings. When its hidden like that and when you have an old structure like this, it’s difficult to get in front of the fire,” Eckerman said.

He said the damage so far is “substantial,” adding that there have been some ceiling collapses on the first floor. Some bricks have also fallen from the school.

Toronto Mayor John Tory visited the school to survey the damage and offer support to fire crews.

The mayor sought to assure the public that the cause of the fires, which have yet to be determined, will be thoroughly investigated by Ontario’s Office of the Fire Marshal with help from Toronto police.

“No stone will be left unturned so we can understand what happened here,” Tory said. “But before that, I think it’s very important that people should not… jump to any conclusions.”

Principal ‘heartbroken’ 

York Memorial principal Donna Drummond said on Tuesday morning she was “devastated” and “heartbroken” to see the school go up in flames.

“The school has a long standing history in this area, in this community,” she said. “It’s a wonderful school, with wonderful staff and students.”

York Memorial Collegiate Institute officially turned 90 yesterday — with its cornerstone laid on May 6, 1929. Anniversary celebrations had been planned for the end of the month.

Drummond said the school is full of historically significant architecture, including an auditorium with stained glass windows and pillars.

“It’s a school named after those who sacrificed their lives for us, and the auditorium was a reflection of that,” she said.

Students and staff had been asked to go to George Harvey Collegiate Institute, located about ten minutes on foot from York CI, on Tuesday morning.

Now that George Harvey CI is being evacuated, parents are asked to pick up their children if possible. If not, all students and staff will go to Oakwood Collegiate Institute for the day.

Some TTC routes are also diverting due to the fire.

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