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Persons of interest cleared in Babcock Building fire investigation

The city says it's still unclear if this was an accident or an intentional act.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Columbia police say eight people who'd been identified as persons of interest in last Saturday's massive fire at the historic Babcock Building in downtown Columbia have been ruled out of any connection to the incident. 

Police said Tuesday they determined the eight people had no knowledge of the incident. Officers made that conclusion after reviewing surveillance video and pictures, and they said the people had been cooperative and willingly came in to answer questions from investigators. 

Six of the people's photos had been released on Saturday and shared widely online, but again, none of those people had an connection to the incident. 

RELATED: Historic Babcock Building in downtown Columbia destroyed by fire

It's still not known if the fire was accidental or an intentional act. People with any information are asked to call Crimestoppers at 1-888-CRIME-SC. 

Agents from South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED), the Columbia Fire Marshal's office, and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) are part of the investigation into the fire's cause. 

Around 6:30 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 12, Columbia firefighters got a call of heavy smoke coming from the building. When they arrived, they found the structure engulfed in flames.  

Fire officials estimate damage is likely in the millions of dollars. The fire burned the historic building's roof and caused several structural collapses inside.

The Babcock Building sits on the BullStreet development, a 250-acre site in downtown Columbia that was once the site of the state mental health hospital. 

It was set to be turned into a set of luxury apartments. Earlier this year, Virginia based historic renovation specialist Clachan Properties took ownership of the property.  Clachan planned to turn the 254,022 square foot building into a 208-unit apartment building featuring one, two and three bedroom units with a pool, dog park, and exercise facility. 

The Babcock Building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has been a part of the city's downtown since 1857. At its peak, it once housed nearly 400 mental patients. All of the patients were removed in 1990, and it later closed for good in 1996.

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