Careless smoking was behind a huge blaze that forced tenants out of a 12-suite apartment building in Ste. Anne, Man., late Monday night, according to the local fire chief.

Ste. Anne fire Chief Ken Dayment said the three-storey building was gutted by the fire, which started at around 11:30 p.m. CT.

"It was really rolling when we got there, so we used an awful lot of water and everybody worked very hard at it," Dayment told CBC News on Tuesday.

"Everybody got out safe, which is a real bonus considering … the damage to it."

It took the combined efforts of about 50 firefighters from the Rural Municipality of Tache and the towns of Ste. Anne, La Broquerie and Richer to get the blaze under control.

Dayment said the fire started on a balcony on the southwest corner of the apartment building.

A cigarette was smouldering in a plastic container and set the siding of the building ablaze, he said, adding that the fire spread very quickly from there.

"It went from the first floor, right up, and got into the attic, and then just ran from the west side right down to the east side," Dayment said. "The roof burned right off the building."

Firefighters remained on the scene Tuesday. Damage from the fire is estimated at almost $1 million.

Ste. Anne is 30 kilometres southeast of Winnipeg.