The massive blaze filled the area with heavy smoke Thursday night and into Friday morning, forcing the evacuation of nearby businesses and residential buildings.
WATCH LIVE: Chopper 11HD is over the scene
The fire happened shortly before 10 p.m., at 400 W. North St., where the Metropolitan apartment complex was under construction. Eyewitnesses said it appeared the fire ignited on the second floor, though police and fire officials have not yet made such a determination.
"It was massive. It looked like the entire block was one fire," a downtown business owner and resident named Patrick told ABC11's Angelica Alvarez.
Listen to the 911 calls
No one lives in the building, but there are numerous buildings nearby, including other residential apartment units.
Fire officials told ABC11's Gloria Rodriguez they were not aware of any injuries.
The fire was so large that the smoke was visible on First Alert Doppler XP.
Firefighters worked in defensive manner through the evening to prevent the fire from spreading.
By 1 a.m., the fire continued to burn, but appeared to be under control. Some firefighters were packing up and leaving the scene as the threat appeared to diminish.
Jason, who lives directly across the street from the construction site, said he got a little concerned as he saw what began as a small fire quickly escalate.
He told ABC11's Joel Brown that he was at a downtown Raleigh establishment and tried to return to his apartment because he was worried about his dog.
"I tried to make my way back into the building and I couldn't get back in, the police and the fire department were evacuating people and they wouldn't let anyone else back inside," Jason said.
Former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory tweeted late Thursday night: "Sec. Kluttz and husband got out of building near #RaleighFire. God bless the firefighters and first responders. Praying for their safety!"
Clay and Hugo, two Peace University students, said they had to park off campus when they were returning from the gym because the streets were blocked off.
The pair said lots of friends and co-workers were calling and texting them to make sure they were okay, a scene repeated countless times in downtown Raleigh on Thursday evening.
Some people who lived south of the building were bringing in items from their balconies and watching out for hot embers blowing toward their homes.
Eyewitnesses told ABC11 it took only a few minutes for the fire to develop into a massive blaze that engulfed the building.
"I heard a bunch of sirens," one woman who lives nearby told ABC11's Joel Brown. "I looked around me and everything was orange."
Conner, another downtown Raleigh resident, told ABC11's Joel Brown the "flames were pretty intense and pretty hot, and the whole building went up in about 10 minutes."
A church on the corner of Salisbury and Hillsborough streets has offered to shelter anyone displaced by the fire.
The cause of the fire is not yet known.
Stay on top of breaking news with the ABC11 News App
Report a typo to the ABC13 digital staff