By Deborah Souverain

FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – A vacant building in Wilton Manors, which was once used as a church, went up in flames early Wednesday morning.

The roof of the building located at 1550 NE 26th Street appeared to have collapsed at one point during the fire.

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A resident who did not want their name used told CBS4 they heard a loud sound, like an explosion, moments before the fire erupted.

According to area residents, the building has been at the center of several meetings regarding the future of the lot it sits on. They said there have been discussions for years about demolishing it for a new development project.

According to Fort Lauderdale Fire Battalion Chief Stephen Ballon, a demolition permit was issued for the building, and it was scheduled to be demolished within the next 6 months.

“I hope nobody’s hurt, that was my first thought,” said Larry Baum, the owner of the property. Baum told CBS4 News he boarded the building up to keep squatters out.

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“There’s no utilities right now, everything’s been disconnected,” said Baum. “The property has been abandoned for about 11 years,” he added.

The former mayor of Wilton Manors told CBS4 he has his own theories as to how the vacant church building went up in flames.

“There has been a tremendous homeless problem here, people breaking in and turning it into a homeless camp. My guess is that some homeless people did something and it set something on fire,” said John Fiore, Former Mayor of Wilton Manors.

Fire officials said Wednesday morning’s fire was the largest in Wilton Manors in the past two decades.

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The State Fire Marshall’s office is assisting with the investigation, along with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and explosives.

Deborah Souverain