Fire took hold of the building in the early hours of Tuesday. Scores of emergency personnel were unable to stop the spread, which eventually caused part of the structure to collapse, The Associated Press reported.
The fire, which is now under control, began at around 1:30am local time, a Sao Paulo Fire Department spokesman said. Around 160 firefighters and 57 vehicles responded to the fire on Largo do Paissandu, a street in the downtown area of Brazil’s largest city. The blaze is thought to have been started by a gas explosion, the BBC said.
Footage of the collapse was posted to social media, showing debris raining down on the surrounding buildings and streets. A fireball erupted from the structure as it collapsed.
Though a fire department spokesman told CNN the department did not expect any deaths or injuries, local newspaper Estadão said at least one person had died and others were thought to be still trapped in the rubble.
The newspaper reported that the military had joined the rescue effort, and was attempting to extract a person from the upper floors of the building through an adjacent property when the structure collapsed. A firefighter was among those wounded.
Firefighter Lieutenant Andre Elias told Brazilian news channel Globo TV that emergency personnel expected to find victims, but were unsure exactly how many to expect. The fire department had previously inspected the site and reported its poor conditions to the municipal authorities, according to Estadão.
The Associated Press reported that the building was formerly a federal police headquarters but had been abandoned for many years. It was regularly occupied by squatters, and it is possible that groups of homeless people were using the building when the fire broke out. The BBC quoted local residents as saying up to 50 families had moved into the property.
The blaze also spread to a neighboring building. Firefighters evacuated the building and contained the fire with no victims or risk of collapse. Several other nearby buildings were evacuated and surrounding roads closed