Ballarat City firefighters were among those who helped bring Ararat's former Prestige Mill site's fire under control in the early hours of Friday morning.
A driver spotted flames coming out of the roof at the eastern end of the building on Lowe Street about 2am and called emergency services, who were on scene for several hours.
The cause of the fire is being investigated but Detective Senior Constable Gjalt Erkelens, of Ararat, said young people entered the property regularly and fires were frequent.
"The floor is unstable because of the number of fires," he said.
"The ceiling has asbestos and is falling down. It's a hazardous environment and kids should not be playing in it."
Police have issued a warning to children who enter the site following the fire.
Country Fire Authority operations officer Neville Collins said it was very easy to inadvertently come into contact with asbestos in the old building.
"If the wind is getting up, it can blow down," he said.
Senior Constable Erkelens said the Country Fire Authority and Victoria Police had been working together to try and find a way to secure the building.
Senior Constable Erkelens said it was unclear who owned the building.
"Someone needs to take responsibility for it to make it safe and secure," he said.
"Council will make an assessment of the building's safety hazards."
Following the fire, a smoke warning was issued for Ararat by Vic Emergency and is still in place.
The warning stated:
- If you can smell smoke, please note:
- Smoke can affect people's health.
- People with pre-existing health problems, heart or lung conditions (including asthma), children, pregnant women and older people are more sensitive to the effects of breathing in smoke.
- People with existing heart or lung conditions (including asthma) should follow the treatment plan advised by the doctor.
- If you need medical advice for exposure to smoke, seek medical advice or call Nurse on Call on 1300 606 024.
- Anyone experiencing wheezing, chest tightness and difficulty breathing should call Triple Zero (000).
- Ararat Advertiser