CHESTER, N.S. -- Chester Playhouse, often described as the heart of the community, went up in flames on Friday. Fire tore through the 83-year-old structure.

The damage is significant but some pre-planning helped limit the spread of the fire.

Black smoke billowing high into the air drew many people to downtown Chester late Friday afternoon.

"(The) whole front looks normal, but there was a window in the front that was smashed and the flames were coming out of there, we didn’t realize the whole back was on fire," says Chester resident Jacqueline Swinemar.

Built in 1938, the structure has transitioned from a movie house, to a puppet theatre to the current playhouse. The community calls the loss devastating.

"It’s a real hub, a real heart of this community. Being down here yesterday, there were folks with tears in their eyes, folks that had grown up seeing shows or doing theatre classes, just being part of the playhouse," says Executive Director Andrew Chandler.

The building was at the tail end of a $1.3 million dollar renovation, part of the upgrading, was the installation of a firewall that helped save adjacent buildings. Another major factor working in favour of firefighters was a template on how to combat a fire at this particular building.

"At our officer meetings, we spend a fair bit of time discussing and preplanning a specific location with another district. About two years ago, this was a place that we chose to have a pre-plan on, our water supply, what we would need for equipment, manpower and who we would call in," says Cody Stevens, deputy chief of the Chester Fire Department.

Friday, that plan of attack paid off.

"We ran five inch supply lines to the ocean, and then we put those lines in between the buildings on each corner and the aerial device is up and we just basically surrounded this entire building with water," says Stevens.

Katherine Gleason runs a craft store next door.

"The fact that they could contain it, just a huge credit to them and I think everybody is incredibly grateful," says Gleason.

Village Coun. Danielle Barkhouse says the playhouse will have the support of the community when it comes time to rebuild.

"We love the playhouse, we support the playhouse 100 per cent and it’s one of a kind," says Barkhouse.

The Chester volunteer fire department received mutual aid from 17 nearby departments.

More than 100 firefighters were on scene.

There were people inside at the time of the fire but everyone safely evacuated the building.

At this point, it is too early to know what caused the fire or even if the building is salvageable.