ATLANTA - Crews battled a massive fire near the Morris Brown College campus in southwest Atlanta Thursday night.
The fire broke out around 6:45 p.m. but smoke could still be seen coming from the building during Channel 2 Action News Nightbeat at 11.
Firefighters shut down part of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard as they worked to put out hot spots. The building was a former dorm at Morris Brown College that the school sold to Invest Atlanta.
The smoke was so intense that Channel 2 Action News heard from passengers landing at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport who say they saw the smoke from the air.
What started as a relatively small fire on the third floor of the abandoned building exploded into an inferno within minutes.
"The fire had really progressed to a point where it was not safe to keep our firefighters in any longer," Atlanta Fire Rescue Asst. Chief Chris Wessels told Channel 2’s Matt Belanger.
Firefighters rushed into the building to make sure no one was inside. But within 20 minutes the intense flames, heat and smoke forced them out.
For about an hour crews sprayed water on stubborn flames shooting from the roof of the building.
At times, thick smoke reduced visibility to a matter of feet on the ground and drifted miles across the Atlanta skyline.
Neighbors watched the piece of their community's history come to an end.
"It's just a sad, sad sight,” one neighbor told Belanger. "This whole school played a big part of this neighborhood."
Fire officials say they'll look into whether homeless individuals who may have been living in the building could have anything to do with the cause.
"I do know from other firefighters that there have been calls to this building in recent weeks and evidence of people homesteading," Wessels said.
Fire crews remained at the scene overnight to monitor hot spots.