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About 50 families reportedly were living in the abandoned building. Then squatters moved in; an Associated Press investigation previous year found about 350 families living there. "Happily, the majority got out", de Souza told local reporters. With such a large population, affordable housing remains a concern, and this fire in a building where squatters lived will shine a light on that serious issue. "We don't know how many people were in the building so we don't know whether we'll find more victims in the ruins". It is thought to have been caused by a gas explosion, according to reports. Local media on Tuesday reported that only around 50 were now living there. Firefighters continued trying to fully extinguish the flames amid the debris of concrete chunks and twisted metal pipes.

CBS News reported that the building's collapse rained fiery debris onto nearby structures and the street below as firefighters worked to evacuate people from the area and create a safe perimeter around the location.

Footage from Tuesday (May 1) shows the scene as the inferno illuminates surrounding buildings in the Brazilian city. "I had to come, despite these protests, because I was in Sao Paulo, and it would have looked bad if I didn't", he told journalists. The government estimates that almost 4000 families are living in vacant buildings downtown.

The fire is sure to put a spotlight on the occupations, which are led by highly organized fair-housing groups that take over and then fight for ownership.

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Search and rescue operations could take days.

Former Sao Paulo mayor Joao Doria, who recently stepped down to run for governor, cracked down on squatter communities as part of a plan to revitalize the downtown area.

He had envisioned a revitalised downtown, a glitzy showcase for an important financial centres.