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Fire consumes Athens' historic Georgia Theatre
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Smoke covered much of downtown Athens this morning as firefighters battled a blaze at the Georgia Theatre. - photo by Kristen Morales

ATHENS - Fire erupted at the historic Georgia Theatre here earlier this morning, causing smoke to pour over downtown and stopping hundreds of onlookers on their way to work.

Officials from Athens-Clarke County Police said the first call came in about 7 a.m. About an hour later two ladder trucks were fighting the blaze from the east and west sides of the building, while thick brown smoke covered the structure. Portions of the roof have collapsed, and at about 8 a.m. flames from the fire could be seen from about a half mile away.

There is no word yet on the cause of the fire. 

Amy Martin, a lifelong Athens resident who was watching the blaze with her children, Elizabeth, 5, and William, 3, said it was sad to watch the landmark building burn.

"My mom used to go there and watch movies when she was little, so it's kind of sad," she said. "Unbelievable."

The longtime concert venue was set to host local favorites Perpetual Groove for a two-night show starting tonight and gearing up for AthFest, a three-day concert and art festival next weekend. The Georgia Theatre opened as a music venue in 1978, and The Police played a show there one year later during the band's first U.S. tour. It is co-owned by Gainesville native Will Greene.

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