SANTA MARIA – At least 245 people were killed early Sunday in a fire that swept through a popular nightclub in the city of Santa Maria, in the Southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, reports O Globo.

The fire broke out at around 2 a.m. after one of the bands performing on stage used pyrotechnics, authorities said.

According to witnesses, the fire swept the popular Kiss nightclub in three minutes, reports Porto Alegre based newspaper Zero Hora.

"We looked up at the ceiling in front of the stage and it was catching fire," 23-year-ol Luana Santos Silva told Brazil's Globo TV.

Thick smoke engulfed the venue after the acoustic insulation caught fire, officials said.

Students from the city's Federal University (UFSM) were holding their fresher's ball at the nightclub. The number of people who were inside the nightclub when the fire broke out has not yet been confirmed but the club has a capacity of 2,000.

Colonel Adilomar Silva, the regional coordinator of civil defense, said the death toll was likely to climb as firefighters were still pulling bodies from the venue. Most of the victims died of smoke inhalation, Silva said.

According to survivors, some security guards had tried to prevent people from leaving without paying, reports Zero Hora.

A temporary morgue has been set up in a local gym as the city's main morgue is unable to cope.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff cancelled a series of meetings in Chile where she had been attending a regional summit. "The Brazilian people are the ones who need me today," she said. "I want to tell the people of Santa Maria in this time of sadness that we are all together." It is the second deadliest fire in the history of Brazil, reports Folha de S.Paulo.