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The former Naval Support Activity site is seen located along the industrial canal between Bywater and the 9th Ward in New Orleans, La., Wednesday, April 18, 2018. 

A fire broke out late Wednesday afternoon at the former Naval Support Activity base at Poland Avenue and Chartres Street, next to the Industrial Canal in Bywater. 

The base contains several large buildings and has been abandoned for years.

The fire was first reported at 5:27 p.m. When firefighters arrived five minutes later, they saw smoke coming from a hallway on the second floor of one of the base's massive six-story buildings.

As firefighters made their way through the dark halls in search of the fire, several homeless people passed them seeking to escape the fire.

Additional firefighters were called in to assist in the search for possible lost or injured people.

The deteriorated condition of the building, which contained piles of trash, holes in the floors and open elevator shafts, made the search even more difficult.

Firefighters discovered and extinguished a trash fire on the second floor. Two people found in that area were not injured and were escorted outside.

In all, 38 firefighters were involved in fighting the fire, which was declared out at 7:25 p.m.

No one was injured. 

The Navy transferred the property to the city in 2013 at no cost and in good condition, but since then it has become an eyesore, littered with graffiti, broken glass and rotting office furniture, and overrun by vagrants.

In part, that’s because the city diverted at least $40 million in federal grants for Navy base redevelopment to other projects. And there is no prospect of getting any new federal aid as Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s team seeks to renegotiate terms with a private development team that has been itching to start work at the site since 2012.

The base was originally built in 1919 and became a point of embarkation for thousands of soldiers during World War II. Many New Orleanians still refer to it as the Port of Embarkation.