Salt Lake firefighters battled for more than an hour Thursday to control a three-alarm fire that raged through a vacant downtown building.

Flames erupted in the basement and gutted the former home of the Salt Lake Roasting Co. and Cafe, 245 E. 400 South. More than 55 firefighters with six engine companies and three ladder trucks responded to the fire.The blaze was so intense at one point that crews on the building's roof had to evacuate, but no injuries were reported.

"The tar was starting to melt up there," Salt Lake Fire Capt. Dave Reeves said. "We didn't want to compromise the safety of our people, so we pulled them off."

Communications at the scene caused some tension when commanders had difficulty understanding the garbled voices from firefighters' radios in the building.

"I can't hear you! I can't hear what you're saying," one commander yelled into his radio. The commander thrust his hands in the air and expressed concern about the firefighters inside, but none was injured.

Customers at the nearby Stanyon Street Club, 255 E. 400 South, called the Fire Department after seeing smoke pouring from the building's windows.

The first crews arrived about 8:20 p.m. but had difficulty attacking the source of the blaze because smoke was unusually heavy and obstructions in the basement slowed their progress.

"Basement fires are real dirty and nasty. The basement tends to hold the heat and smoke can't ventilate as easily; that's why it's taking us longer," Reeves said.

A heavy plume of smoke lingered in the downtown area during the first minutes of the fire attracting dozens of bystanders. Traffic was closed between 200 and 300 East for most of the night while crews cleared the scene.

Once the blaze was controlled, firefighters spent an hour pulling the ceiling down searching for "hidden hot spots," Reeves said.

Smoldering embers can be trapped in empty wall and ceiling spaces and later burst into flames, he said.

Fire officials said they were investigating the cause of the fire.

The building, which is owned by Reagan Outdoor Advertising, was vacated by the coffeehouse's owner Jan. 27.

A waiter at the new location of Salt Lake Roasting Co. and Cafe a half block away said the owner "was tired of leasing" and wanted to buy a home for the local coffeehouse.