Two teenagers have been charged with arson following a fire at the Canada Games Centre on Friday evening, Whitehorse RCMP announced this week.
The fire started behind the boards at the ATCO ice surface and a two-metre-high stack of foam speed skating mats was destroyed. So was the outside wall of the rink and a vertical support beam.
Police aren’t releasing many details about how the fire was started, citing their ongoing investigation. The identity of the teens is protected by the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
The teens have been released to the custody of their parents.
The fire was spotted at 7:40 p.m. by staff at the wellness centre, the exercise room that overlooks the ice surface. The rink was open as a drop-in centre for youth, and skateboard ramps had been installed on the concrete pad.
Nearly 200 people were in the centre that night.
No one was injured, and staff got everyone out of the building before fire crews arrived.
As many as 13 firefighters and volunteers fought the fire, and it was put out within 30 minutes.
After that, much of the work involved ridding the building of huge amounts of toxic smoke from the burning foam and plastic.
Immediately after the fire was extinguished, visibility was less than three metres, said indoor facilities manager Art Manhire, who was there.
“I felt like it was my home on fire,” said Manhire. “I’ve talked to many in the community who feel the same way.”
Monday morning, a thin layer of soot covered everything in the centre and a significant portion of the wall behind the ice pad was completely burnt out.
The heat probably reached 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, judging by the damage to the wall, according to Fire Chief Clive Sparks.
A thick steel post is badly damaged and looks slightly warped as a result of the heat.
All that remains of the nine-metre scoreboard is a small corner, the rest has melted away.
Lights hanging near the fire also melted from the heat.
The pool area was largely unaffected by the fire and the city hopes to have it back up and running sometime this week, using a side entrance.
However, the rest of the centre will be out of commission for much longer.
“I think it’s fair to say that the damage was kept to a minimum,” said deputy mayor Doug Graham.
“But the impact of this fire is going to be with us for some time. Parts of the centre will have to remain closed for a while.”
An insurance investigation still has to be concluded to determine the full extent of the damage.
A structural engineer has also been called in to assess the damage to the wall.
And art curators have been called in to assess the damage to the centre’s art collection, city spokesperson Matthew Grant said on Tuesday.
“There’s a great deal of artwork that’s worth a great deal of money in there.”
There’s also a great deal of equipment.
Yukon Speed Skating had $50,000 to $60,000 worth of crash mats in the centre, according to coach Phil Hoffmann.
“That’s what we paid for them, so I don’t really know how much it would cost to replace them,” he said.
“Some of them were several years old, and the last ones we bought were for the Canada Winter Games here.”
Many of these mats were completely consumed in the fire, and Hoffman has heard that all of them have been ruined.
The city is unable to say whether its insurance plan will cover the cost of the mats or other equipment in the building.
It’s still uncertain how extensive the damage is, and how much it will cost to repair. Rough estimates run into the millions.
The fire won’t affect the speed skaters this summer, but it’s unclear whether they’ll be able to replace the mats by September.
It’s also unclear whether the ice surface will be back up and running by then.
Hoffman said his team can use Takhini, as it did before the games centre was built. But Takhini’s rink is smaller and, because of safety concerns, an Olympic-sized ice
surface, like the one at the games centre, is preferable.
That’s presuming that the speed skaters will be able to get ice time at Takhini.
“Ice is at a premium as it is already,” said Hoffman.
“I don’t know what they would do.”
There’s a lot of cleaning to do at the games centre.
Most of the facility suffered smoke and water damage.
Both ice pads were covered in 15 centimetres of water.
The wellness centre was untouched, but the area outside its doors got hot enough to trip the sprinklers, soaking the floor and destroying ceiling tiles.
On Monday, the floor was covered in pools of soot and sodden, broken tiles.
“It’s really depressing to see the facility in the condition that it’s in,” said Graham.
“We haven’t had something like this occur in the city in a long time, and it’s going to be difficult. But the way people have pulled together, the experience isn’t going to be as bad as it could have been.”
City staff have been scrambling to divert many programs held at the centre to other locations in the city.
Skating camps, scheduled to begin on July 11, will begin on time at the Takhini Arena.
Physiotherapy programs have been moved to the Mt. McIntyre Recreation Centre.
And the skateboard ramps will be moved to the far side of the parking lot.
More information on specific programs is available on the city’s website.
Contact Chris Oke at