Fire crews are expected to remain at the scene of a large fire at a Scarborough community centre overnight as they continue to battle the four-alarm blaze amid “brutal” weather conditions.   

“Our crews are working extremely hard to keep this fire contained and to stop the forward spread of the flames,” Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg told CP24 Thursday evening as the fire was upgraded to a four-alarm event.

Pegg said firefighters were trying to save the arena area, but the building poses unique challenges.

“Our crews have been working very hard on accessing the roof and creating ventilation holes that are allowing that trapped heat, gas and smoke to escape and giving us access to it,” Pegg said.

He said that one of the challenges with this fire is that one burning section of the roof is over the swimming pools.

“In a normal building oftentimes we can get our crews inside and take the ceiling and roof down and then access it, but because it’s overtop of the pools there’s no way for us to do that safely. So we’re having to do everything exterior which of course is very demanding on everybody and hard to get at. “

He said the frigid temperatures are also hampering efforts to stamp out the fire.

“It’s brutal. Most of pour equipment is freezing up,” Pegg said.

Toronto Fire crews were called to the scene at around 4:45 p.m. and arrived to find visible smoke and flames at the building.

Images sent to CP24 from a viewer at the scene showed heavy smoke coming off the roof of the Agincourt Recreation Centre on Glen Watford Drive.

“It appears to be a fire in the mechanical room. What exactly is burning we’re not sure yet,” District Fire Chief Stephan Powell told CP24 earlier.  

Toronto police said the fire started in the pool area at the recreation centre.

While there had been some initial concern that chemicals at the pool or arena might have caught fire, Pegg later said that firefighters confirmed the chemicals were isolated from the fire.

Powell also said the frigid temperatures pose a challenge in fighting the blaze.

“This time of year with these temperatures it’s always a concern,” he said. “Water freezes, people can slip – it’s definitely a concern for our firefighters.”

Bathers still in their swimsuits could be seen outside the centre trying to stay warm shortly after the building was evacuated.

“Everybody was still in shock, so that even people who were in their swimming trunks came out,” said Daniel Zilisch, who was at the centre when the fire started.

Pegg praised those who made a quick exit from the building when the fire broke out.

“Everyone exited quickly, including people in their wet bathing suits,” he said. “That was absolutely the right thing to have done.”

TTC buses have been brought in to shelter firefighters in rotation.

While the fire was originally called in as a one-alarm event, it quickly escalated.

At around 7:30 p.m., it was upgraded to a four-alarm event.

No injuries have been reported.

It’s not yet clear how the blaze started.

“Until we can get the fire under control and fully suppressed and get our investigators in there, I won’t have any information about causes,” Pegg said.

He said that firefighters expect to be at the scene for the rest of the night.

‘This is our home’

Several people who came to witness the fire Thursday said that losing the rec centre means more than just losing a building.

“We’ve been playing here for seven years and we rely on this every Saturday and to see this happen, we don’t know what’s going to happen now,” one man told CP24.

He said in particular, there is a special needs hockey program that relies on the centre.

Another man said he had to come see the fire for himself when he heard about it on CP24 and said the centre is like a home to him.

“We couldn’t believe it. This is where we depend on playing hockey,” he said. “It’s just really sad to see it go up in flames.”

 According to city spokesperson Brad Ross, the recreation centre is one of the busiest in the city, with nearly 3,000 registrations for more than 400 courses, in addition to drop-in programs.

In Scarborough, only the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre is busier, Ross said.

All activities and programs at the recreation centre are cancelled and those looking for information about a particular class or activity should call 311.

Ross said the full impact on city recreation programs in the area is not yet known.

Students at Sir Alexander Mackenzie Senior Public School, which is next door to the recreation centre, will be relocated to Agincourt Collegiate Institute Friday due to the fire, the TDSB said Thursday night.