Firefighters were able to keep the blaze from spreading to adjacent buildings.
"Any time you have an old vacant building, you really don't know what you're dealing with," said Captain Teresa Hayes, Durham Fire Department.
But firefighters knew they were facing a situation that could easily get out of control. Flames and smoke could be seen miles away.
The building is surrounded by other tall, aging structures so additional crews were called immediately.
"Three engine companies, two more ladders, another squad unit, more medic units, another chief, it's a good thing for manpower," Hayes said.
Crews successfully contained the fire to the old, empty building. Firefighters say they were lucky to be able to knock the blaze down so quickly.
Now, they will try to figure out how it happened.
"Sometimes there are vagrants in the buildings, just trying to find shelter, keep warm and sometimes they can have accidental fires," Hayes said.
Fire officials admit it could have been worse. They say older buildings with old timber can burn for a long time before flames appear.
Hayes says officials did a walkthrough of the structure weeks ago so they knew the building was empty and they knew what they were dealing with.