BALTIMORE (WJZ/AP) — Two city buildings and hundreds of were evacuated after a massive fire broke out in downtown Baltimore’s adult entertainment district around 4 p.m. Monday.  It’s in the 400 block of Baltimore Street, a building known as “the Block.”   Kelly McPherson and Kai Jackson have more.

It went up to a five-alarm fire before being contained around 7 p.m. 

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“The fire is nearly under control,” said Chief Kevin Cartwright at around 5:30 p.m.  “We believe at this point four to five buildings have suffered damage…as soon as the conditions are safe to do so, we’ll have our investigators go inside and determine what caused the fire.”

Firefighters attacked the blaze from the top, pouring water on the affected buildings.  The fire began at 404 E. Baltimore Street, which contains two clubs and a bookstore.  It’s spread down the block, as far as a restaurant named Crazy John’s.  The damage to the buildings is not known.

“The fire got a big head start on us.  We’re going to go in there and try to figure out how it got started,” said Chief James Clack.

Many people fled the buildings, many of which are adult businesses and nightclubs.  The smoke was visible from miles away, even as far away as Rosedale and I-83.  Residents in Little Italy and Harbor East say that the smoke was blanketing their neighborhoods, as well.

“We have the war memorial set up [as a shelter],” said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.  “So far, it’s just the buildings and the roads that were closed and we’re very grateful for that.  We need to make sure there’s not too much smoke damage.  It’s more than the fire that causes the damage.  There was a lot of water that was used to make sure the fire didn’t spread.”

“It scared us,” said Kyle Emerson.

Emerson and his fiance Erica lived a safe distance away and so they had a birds’ eye view of the fire.

“It’s crazy, man,” said witness Alice Darton.

“I’m sitting at the club, they knocked down the middle set, firefighters with ladders came up,” said one man.  “Big, thick cloud of black smoke came rolling down the block.  You couldn’t see anything.”

According to the Baltimore Sun, Fire Chief James S. Clack said that four buildings on Baltimore Street did not appear to have sprinklers, which were not required by the city at the time of their construction.

The weather played a role in the fire, as well. 

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“Temperatures are still above freezing but they will be dropping after sunset.  The winds have been gusting over 30 miles per hour today, which could spread fire easily and could hamper any fire fighting,” said Meteorologist Bernadette Woods.  “The winds will continue through tonight.

“We’re hoping to have a chance to go in and do a real assessment of our city buildings so we can make sure there’s not too much smoke damage,” Rawlings-Blake said. 

Neighbors say you could see bouncers and patrons running down the streets.

Nearly 50 units and over 100 firefighters responded to the scene.

“There is four to five businesses, operating businesses, that suffered some damage as a result of this fire,” Cartwright said.  “Our firefighters were able to go to adjacent structures to head off the fire.”

Joanna Trela, 38, an office manager for a law firm, works on the 27th floor of a building overlooking the fire scene.  She said she looked out the window and spotted the fire after an attorney in her firm suggested that something was wrong with the ventilation system.

“We smelled it,” Trela said.

The fire had her temporarily stranded.

“The most frustrating part is, they shut down the parking garage, so nobody in our building can leave, so we’re all kind of hanging out,” Trela said.

Alex LeBlanc, a management consultant who works a few blocks away, was pulling into a parking garage when he saw the thick clouds of smoke.

“I haven’t seen smoke like that before.  From three blocks away, it was just black,” LeBlanc said.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.  No injuries have been reported.

The area is no stranger to fires.  The Baltimore fire of 1904, which destroyed much of the city, also wiped out The Block, which then had offices and clothing stores, the Sun reported. 

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You can see a slideshow of images from the fire here.