Crews were called to Albert Street for a fire that ripped through three buildings and sent smoke throughout the Exchange District and downtown Winnipeg Thursday morning.

The Albert Street fire was reported around 9:30 a.m. and gutted a restaurant, record store and historic home.

There were no reports of injuries.

Witnesses said they saw business owners escape from the flames in one of the buildings.

"They just had as much stuff as they could (carry) – basically a few bags and they were choking and coughing and trying to get out of there because there were flames shooting out the back and you could see the building collapse down," said one witness.

Police temporarily closed off access to Notre Dame and Portage avenues while crews worked on fighting the blaze.

The War on Music record store, Ken Hong restaurant and a historic home were consumed by the blaze. The small home burned behind the restaurant was a piece of Winnipeg history, dating back to 1877.

Ken Zaifman owns the buildings that housed all three.

"It saddens me to see it burned out and it saddens me because there were tenants there and they had viable businesses and I'm sorry to see those businesses won't be able to continue," said Zaifman.

In 2008, Zaifman brought forward a plan for $10 million in renovations for the area, including turning the buildings into a boutique hotel and patio.

While this is not the way he'd hoped to make the changes, he said his plans to revamp the area will continue once it's safe to do so.

Throughout downtown Winnipeg, heavy clouds of smoke circulated from the fire Thursday.

"It's killing me in the lungs right now," said Leonard Tillett, who has emphysema. He tried to take video footage of the fire while wearing a mask, but found the fumes too strong.

Crews prevented the blaze from spreading to the nearby Royal Albert Hotel, but it's believed to have suffered some smoke damage.

Fire crews also faced challenges Thursday.

"If you notice the way the smoke is hanging, it's an inversion - smoke comes down and hangs around the street so everyone is wearing breathing apparatus," said Bill Clark, acting deputy of operations with Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service.

Police said the cause of the fire remains under investigation but is not considered suspicious.

- with reports from CTV's Caroline Barghout, Stacey Ashley and Jeff Keele

- photo gallery of images from viewers and CTV staff at the fire scene