After an exhausting day, crews managed to contain a massive six-alarm fire at a historic midtown racquet club, but the effort to completely douse the beastly blaze will continue deep into the early morning hours.
“It’s not out, but we’ve made good progress, we have it under control and contained…” Toronto Fire Division Commander, Len Stadler told CityNews just after 11 p.m. “But we’ve got a lot of hot spots…”
More than 120 firefighters were summoned to the Badminton & Racquet Club of Toronto near Yonge and St. Clair at around 9:30 a.m. Tuesday morning. They were greeted by a ravenous fire that was quickly spreading.
It was so fierce, and the structure so precarious, that crews had to take a defensive position, utilizing aerial ladders and blasting water from balconies of neighbouring high rises which were evacuated. Buses were brought in for uprooted residents, and the lobby of nearby building is being used as a temporary shelter.
It’s not clear when area residents will be allowed to return to their homes, as the buildings have to first be assessed for smoke and possible water damage. But Stadler said he’s hopeful area roads will be open and subway and streetcar service will be running to start the morning rush after St.Clair Station was closed for most of Tuesday.
“We are hoping by 6 a.m. that we will have the main corridors opened and traffic flowing through (and the subway as well),” he said.
Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg said his crews finally gained the upper hand on the huge blaze after heavy excavation equipment was brought in to tear down portions of the building so they could gain better access to the flames.
“Our crews have been successful … in preventing the spread of the fire beyond this building to adjoining structures,” he said.
Despite the ominous smoke and frightening flames, Pegg said there were no serious injures. One firefighter was treated for minor back injuries.
“Everyone in that building that we know that was inside that building is safe and accounted for, so that’s good news,” Pegg said.
There’s no indication at this point what started the blaze, which broke out on the second floor of the racquet club at 25 St. Clair Ave. W.
Mayor John Tory arrived at the scene just before 5 p.m. and was briefed by officials before speaking to reporters and thanking firefighters for their efforts.
“I have never seen such a great example of teamwork,” Tory later told CityNews. “Firefighters, the police, the TTC, emergency management, the Red Cross … it’s just been an incredible example of teamwork.”
Video: Smoke fills the sky from Yonge and St. Clair fire. To view on mobile click here.
The racquet club was founded in 1924 and is considered one of the country’s premier clubs. It’s home to provincial, national and international champions.
“I played tennis there for 50 years … I grew up there, it’s a loss beyond words for me. It’s like a second home for me,” said Linda Visosky. She said her father, Walter Martin, was one of the original members of the club.
Visosky said she was supposed to play at the club on Tuesday morning but couldn’t go because she hurt her ankle.
The building that houses the racquet club used to be a streetcar barn, but was sold by the then-known Toronto Transportation Commission because the commission was amalgamating operations and didn’t need the barn any longer.
According to the racquet club’s website, the original streetcar barn formed the core of the club for seven badminton courts and is still in use today.
The club was renovated six years ago after an electrical fire broke out in the men’s sauna on Sept. 30, 2009. It underwent further renovations in 2013.
Video: Massive fire breaks through roof near Yonge and St Clair. To view on mobile click here.
With files from The Canadian Press