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A collapsed exterior wall is photographed as firefighters battle a fire at York Memorial Collegiate Institute in Toronto on Tuesday, May 7.

Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press

Back-to-back fires ravaged a northwest Toronto high school, with firefighters battling the blaze at York Memorial Collegiate Institute into Tuesday evening.

More than 100 firefighters were on scene from the early morning on Tuesday after a second fire erupted at the school, which was evacuated Monday afternoon because of a separate fire that was quickly put out.

Students and staff have been moved to neighbouring schools – perhaps indefinitely – as the Toronto District School Board awaits to assess the damage.

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Students reported to the nearby George Harvey Collegiate Institute on Tuesday morning, where classes were cancelled again later that same day as a safety precaution due to heavy smoke from the fire, less than one kilometre away. An evacuation order was also in effect for nearby homes for most of Tuesday.

The TDSB has called off classes for both schools on Wednesday. But it is asking staff to report to Oakwood Collegiate Institute to plan for coming weeks as the academic year enters a critical time for students preparing for exams and submitting final assignments.

“It’s already traumatizing as it is, so our plan is to minimize the disruption and prepare our students for the next phase in their lives, whatever that may be,” York Memorial principal Donna Drummond said.

Social workers will be at Oakwood to assist students and staff, some of whom have spent more than 20 years teaching in the building. “That school is their home,” TDSB spokesperson Shari Schwartz-Maltz said.

The nearby Silverthorn Community School, Keelesdale Junior Public School and Charles E. Webster Public School also relocated students to Oakwood. The TDSB will be monitoring air quality overnight and decide early Wednesday morning whether classes will run as scheduled.

SCHOOL EVACUATIONS

York Memorial

Collegiate Institute

Silverthorn

Community School

Keelesdale Junior

Public School

George Harvey

Collegiate Institute

TRISH McALASTER / THE GLOBE AND MAIL

IMAGE: GOOGLE EARTH

SCHOOL EVACUATIONS

York Memorial

Collegiate Institute

Silverthorn

Community School

Keelesdale Junior

Public School

George Harvey

Collegiate Institute

TRISH McALASTER / THE GLOBE AND MAIL

IMAGE: GOOGLE EARTH

SCHOOL EVACUATIONS

York Memorial

Collegiate Institute

Silverthorn

Community School

Keelesdale Junior

Public School

George Harvey

Collegiate Institute

TRISH McALASTER / THE GLOBE AND MAIL; IMAGE: GOOGLE EARTH

York Memorial was first evacuated Monday afternoon, following reports of a fire just after 2 p.m. Less than three hours later, firefighters put out the flames and cleared the way for Ontario’s Office of the Fire Marshal and Toronto police to begin their investigations.

But overnight, another fire broke out, Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg said.

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The 9-1-1 call came in at 3:24 a.m., summoning crews back to the scene for what was a “separate and distinct fire from the earlier fire,” Chief Pegg said. He could not elaborate on details about where the fires started within the building, citing the need for investigators to determine the circumstances of the blaze.

Firefighters were able to enter the building early Tuesday morning. But they retreated when the situation became too dangerous. Crews relied on up to 25 firetrucks around the school to contain the escalating flame and “extraordinary amount of smoke” blowing out, Chief Pegg said. As many as 150 firefighters were on scene.

Heavy excavation equipment was requested Tuesday evening as a last-ditch measure to suppress the fire.

“This is as a result of the extent of damage to the roof and interior structure in the main part of the building,” the fire chief said in a statement on Twitter.

York Memorial, home to about 900 students, was just weeks shy of a 90th reunion celebration. The school was built to commemorate young people killed in the First World War, with 11 steps – the number signifying the end of the war – leading up to its majestic main entrance.

Although the building prides itself on historic touches, including stained-glass windows, it has also seen a slew of renovations and repairs over the past few years: a new roof and parking lot, replaced boiler system, a fresh coat of paint and brand new lockers.

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While painful to watch, the destruction of the old and the new at York Memorial is not the worst to come of the fire, Ms. Schwartz-Maltz said.

“In the end though … those are just facilities,” she said. “I watched our kids today come out and look at the school in tears. People don’t realize how much school means to kids, and they clearly love their school.”

Police say it’s too early say whether the cause of fire was suspicious.

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