People with severe burns or badly bleeding were rushed to hospitals Thursday after an animation studio in Kyoto was engulfed in flames and columns of black smoke, witnesses said.

"I saw people who were totally black or covered in blood, or who had suffered burns all over their body. One of them claimed to have been splashed with kerosene or something like it," said a 53-year-old local woman.

She said she handed water to some of them as they waited for rescue workers following the suspected arson at the three-story studio of Kyoto Animation Co., a well-known site for anime fans.

Footage posted on the internet showed thick black smoke belching out of almost all the windows of the building whose glass had melted.

Kota Yamaguchi, a 16-year-old high school student who lives near the studio, said the sky turned black with the smoke, and he then saw red flames coming from windows on the third floor of the building.

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"Five or six injured people were lying on benches and blue sheets, looking limp, and among them was a woman bleeding from her head," Yamaguchi said. "Neighbors were busy bringing blocks of ice and drinks for the people with burns."

A 48-year-old woman who runs a chiropractic clinic in the neighborhood said she realized something had happened when multiple ambulances began pulling up in front of her home.

"Victims of the fire were wrapped in what looked like aluminum foil before being taken to the ambulances, with their faces and hands stained with soot. They were given oxygen from cylinders," she said.

Videos uploaded online by media outlets and local residents recording the tragedy shocked and saddened many anime enthusiasts both in and outside Japan. The famous animation producer is affectionately known as "Kyo Ani."

Comments posted by fans on Twitter included "Tears haven't stopped since I heard the news...restore our Kyo Ani" and "I've got a flash of anger because the incident will surely affect the lives of staff members and their production of movies and animation works."

"Members of Kyoto Animation, please be safe," tweeted Makoto Shinkai, the director of the 2016 smash-hit animation "Kimi no Na wa" (your name.).

American animation company Sentai Filmworks has launched an emergency crowdfunding campaign to support Kyoto Animation, which has already raised nearly $200,000. The targeted amount is $500,000.