Police are investigating whether a fire in a downtown apartment building may have been deliberately set.

According to Winnipeg police, witnesses reported seeing several youth running from the area.

They are described as three girls and two boys about 14 or 15 years of age.

The building was completely gutted by flames Monday evening and the smoke from the fire could be seen all around Winnipeg.

Multiple callers contacted 911 to report the fire at about 6:40 p.m.

The vacant four-storey apartment block at 44 Hargrave Street south of Broadway was fully engulfed as fire trucks arrived on scene.

Fire crews took a defensive posture to fight the massive blaze and focused their efforts on one side of the building that is very close to a neighbouring apartment block. The Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service sent out thirteen fire apparatus.

Within an hour, the fire was mostly out leaving nothing but a smoldering shell.

The abandoned building was surrounded by a large plywood fence and the city had issued a demolition order for the property but the owner was given time to attempt to make repairs.

Monday night, demolition crews moved onto the site to dismantle the building.

The apartment complex next door to the south was evacuated until the building was demolished. Tenants of about a dozen suites were kept warm on a Winnipeg Transit bus.

Members of the arson unit are investigating and damage is estimated at $1-million.