A major fire in St-Donat ravaged at least 10 businesses and forced the evacuation of several nearby homes.

The fire began Sunday afternoon inside an old, closed-down grocery store on Principale Street, but was only brought under control late in the evening.

St-Donat fire

The fire broke out in a commercial centre on Sunday afternoon. (CBC)

St-Donat fire

Firefighters are still dousing the ashes and rubble with water to make sure the fire has been fully extinguished. (Elias Abboud/CBC)

The flames were so intense that St-Donat firefighters called in crews from five other surrounding municipalities to help them battle the fire.

Firefighters were still dousing the site this morning. Sgt. Benoit Richard of the Sûreté du Québec said they had to make sure the fire was completely extinguished before investigators began rummaging through the rubble for clues as to what caused the fire. 

He said they're considering everything from accidental fire to arson in the preliminary stages of the investigation.

"They started doing the first investigation, and this morning we should have some crime scene investigators to try to find out what occurred," Richard said.

Luc Giguère lived in an apartment above the Principale Street grocery store where the fire is thought to have originated. He said he was at home cooking dinner and wasn't even aware there was a fire until he got a loud bang at the door from firefighters ordering him to get out.

His apartment was destroyed and his two cats died.

Giguère told CBC News he heard the fire may have been started by young people playing with fire near the grocery store, but St-Donat Mayor Richard Bénard said nothing of the sort has so far been confirmed.

Residents of eight apartments were left homeless, but no one was injured.

Bénard said the people displaced by the fire have already found places to stay, and the town is working to find commercial space for the businesses that were affected. 

In 2000, a fire around the same area in St-Donat destroyed eight business and left 16 people homeless. 

Frank Zbikowski has lived in St-Donat, which is about 125 kilometres north of Montreal, for 20 years and said the fire will have serious repercussions for the small community and its workforce.

"It's a big loss to the municipality because already, economically, it has not been an easy year," Zbikowski said.