Cape Breton police and the fire marshal's office are sifting through what remains of a Glace Bay landmark after a massive fire burned the unused building to the ground Friday night.

Staff Sgt. Ken O'Neill says they have information that a homeless person could have been in the building at the time of the fire.

Glace Bay Fire Chief John Chant says it was fresh footprints in the snow that led authorities to believe someone could have been inside, but the weather, amount of debris and almost three metres of water within the foundation means it could take between 24 and 36 hours before authorities will be able to know for sure.

Glace Bay Fire Department Chief John Chant

Glace Bay Fire Department Chief John Chant. (Submitted by Glace Bay Fire Department)

Fire crews were called to a major structure fire at the Billy D's/Guildwood building on Main Street around 11 p.m.

"When we arrived, the smoke was right down to the floor on all floors, we tried to make entry but there was just absolutely no way we could get inside," says Chant.

Chant says 70 to 80 fire fighters from more than a dozen fire departments responded to the blaze. Police were called in to block off several streets to traffic.

Nova Scotia Power was also called to shut of the power grid to the area, which meant the Glace Bay Hospital was forced to run on emergency generators for six hours so fire crews could safely battle the fire from above.

Excavator called in

Chant says he made the call to bring in the excavator, even though there were aware there was the possibility of someone being inside.

"We were dealing with a building that was collapsing on itself anyway and we had to restrict, with the gas station on one side and other buildings on the opposite side, we had to restrict the spread of the fire," he says.

"The building was going to collapse anyway, it's just that we did it so all the fire fighters would be safely in the area of the collapse."

Anyone with information is asked to call Cape Breton Police or Crime Stoppers.