A local state of emergency has been declared in Penhold after an apartment building reportedly exploded into flames in the central Alberta community.

The incident occurred on Thursday evening, when many residents were sitting down for dinner.

By the time crews arrived at the scene, the building was completely ablaze, with black smoke billowing into the air.

They say the three-storey walk up burned quickly and there was little they could to do stop the fire from claiming the building.

Residents of the building did manage to get out in time and crews evacuated a number of surrounding homes as a precaution.

Jim Leask, a resident of Penhold, says he could feel the heat on his face and saw flames as far as 20 feet up the side of the building.

“I saw a number of people walking down the street with backpacks and garbage bags over their shoulders. I’m guessing they were going to the Penhold Memorial Hall, because that’s where the victims of the fire are going for shelter.”

Two people have been sent to hospital and are listed in serious condition. They are expected to recover.

It could be some time before investigators are able to get anywhere near the building to determine a cause, but witnesses report hearing a large explosion prior to the fire.

The community, along with charity organizations like the Red Cross and Salvation Army are on scene helping the affected residents.

Water rationing has also been enacted in the community.

Crews are continuing to extinguish hot spots, and expect to begin their investigation once those have been entirely put out.

All the other residents in the apartment building have been accounted for, including one woman who needed to be taken to the hospital to deliver her baby.

The two people injured in the fire are in serious condition.