It took a Montreal family more than 60 years to build, but after a weekend fire the owners of the Milano grocery store will have to start all over again. 

Firefighters say a cigarette discarded in a flower pot on a balcony above the store was the source of the fire, which broke out early Saturday afternoon. 

Seven people lost their homes in the blaze. As 125 firefighters fought the flames, Milano's suffered significant water damage.  

milano grocery store fire

Firefighters say six units are a total loss. (Arian Zarrinkoub/CBC)

"We have to throw everything out and start over," Milano co-owner, Mario Zaurinni, told CBC News. "The store needs to be cleaned [and] disinfected."

Milano's has been a family-run business since it opened in the Rosemont-Petite-Patrie borough in 1954. Over the years it has become a Little Italy institution, a place to go for authentic Italian food products. Zaurinni took over the business with his sister after their father died in 2011. 

The store employs 77 people, who will be out of a job until the store reopens, Zaurrini said.

"I never thought one day we'd go through this," he said. "It's hard to take. We don't know how long we're going to be closed."

'Huge black cloud'

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One firefighter suffered an injury after falling from a ladder at Milano grocery store, and another was treated for smoke inhalation. (Dave St-Amand/Radio-Canada)

Those residents living in the apartments above the store described dashing out of the building, taking with them whatever they could carry.  

"I started to smell smoke. So I look at the backyard terrace and saw a wooden patio chair and table on fire," Beatriz Bartolome Herrera, a resident in the building, told CBC News.

Bartoleme Herrera grabbed her cat and computer and managed to leave the building on time.

"The fire expanded really quickly and in a few minutes there was a huge black cloud coming out of the building," she said.

Two firefighters suffered minor injuries — one fell from a ladder and another was treated for smoke inhalation. The fire department said six units are a total loss — one of which was Bartolome Herrera's.

"I didn't expect my apartment to be so destroyed," she said, but added she didn't lose much since she was planning to move back to Spain in a week. 

Others, like her neighbour who has lived in the building for 43 years, "lost everything," Herrera said.

The Red Cross is putting those displaced by the fire in a hotel.

Pierino Di Tonno, an 82-year-old photographer who lives in an apartment owned by Milano's and who successfully fought an eviction notice from the store, is safe but his apartment was damaged, his lawyer said Saturday.

With files from Radio-Canada