UPDATED 05/04/11 10:33 a.m.

WAUKEGAN, Ill. (CBS) — A major fire broke out in downtown Waukegan Wednesday morning, sending up billows of smoke that could be seen for miles.

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As CBS 2’s Kris Habermehl reports, the fire broke out in the old Salvation Army building at 133 S. Gennessee St., near Sheridan Road and Belvidere Street, in Waukegan.

A passerby likely called to report the fire about 6:10 a.m. at the large 1-story, commercial building with 12-foot ceilings and brick on the outside, said Waukegan Fire Battalion Chief John Schmidt. The building has lately been vacant.

Flames were already shooting out of the roof when firefighters arrived.

By 6:45 a.m., only the outside walls remained standing. The roof had burned away, and the interior was nothing but a ball of fire.

A box alarm was called for the fire, and mutual aid will be sent to the scene from Winthrop Harbor, Pleasant Prairie, and other communities in far northern Lake County and southern Wisconsin.

Firefighters had to mount a defensive operation to fight the fire in what was left of the building.

The only good news is the nearest buildings are too far away to be threatened. The building that burned was a total loss.

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Even many miles south over the Stevenson Expressway near Midway International Airport, billows of black smoke could be seen in the sky.

The Salvation Army has been in operation in Waukegan since 1891. A part of the building complex dates from the turn of the last century, but a more modern structure was on fire.

Schmidt said he does not know what could have started the blaze.

“They are investigating that now and probably talking to the person who called it in,’’ he said. “Fire prevention is out there now.’’

The battalion chief said the building housed a Salvation Army warehouse about 25 years ago. It is located about two blocks west of the shores of Lake Michigan.

The fire was out by 8 a.m. No injuries were reported.

By 10 a.m., firefighters were still on the scene working on hot spots. There was some water and smoke damage to adjacent buildings, which need to be ventilated those, but will be open later in the day.

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The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.