After a long battle, firefighters finally stopped a major fire in the business district in Rigby late Friday night, but not before it destroyed two stores and forced evacuation of people living in apartments above the stores.

The fire broke out Friday afternoon, apparently starting in an apartment above the Ben Franklin store. Eighteen hours later, the debris continued to smoulder Saturday, with fire crews standing by to keep sparks from spreading.Almost every fire agency in the region sent help shortly after the fire broke out at 3:30 p.m. Within an hour, eight fire engines were at the scene, with dozens of firefighters battling to keep the fire from spreading to adjoining buildings.

Destroyed were the Ben Franklin store and the adjacent Reed Drug Co. Others in the block of attached buildings incurred smoke and water damage. There was no immediate estimate of the damage, or official word on the probable cause.

"They're going to lose Reed Drug," Rigby police Chief Larry Anderson said late Friday night. "They can't control it. There's so many false walls. We're advising people to just stay away."

"This is probably the most devastating thing that's happened to our community that I know of in all these years, " Mayor Keith Scott said. His Scott's Auto Parts store, adjacent to the other businesses, sustained smoke and water damage.

At the height of the fire, volunteers helped Scott move his inventory of parts out of the store as a precaution to the loss of the structure.

While an investigation will be conducted into the cause of the fire, it is believed a young girl playing with a candle in an apartment touched off the blaze at 3:30 p.m. Sgt. LaVar Summers of the Jefferson County sheriff's office, said the state fire marshal will send an arson team to determine the exact cause.

Some 20 police cars were on hand to keep spectators away from the scene. Anderson said police barricades cordoned off several blocks.

Within an hour after the fire call, there were eight fire trucks and dozens of firefighters battling the blaze from Rigby, Bonneville, Menan, Ammon, Ririe, Lewisville and Idaho Falls, and from Madison and Jefferson counties.

The Idaho Falls Fire Department responded with an aerial pumper truck to douse the tops of the buildings.

"They've got a maze of water lines on every block for a four-block radius," Summers said. "I don't know how they'll untangle them when it's all over."

Firefighters said the firefighting effort was delayed while apartment residents were taken to safety.

"That's what kept us from saving it (the Ben Franklin store)," said Todd Stowell, deputy Jefferson County fire chief. "It took us so much time getting the people out."

He said he had no immediate count on the number of people evacuated.

Owners of adjacent buildings used hoses to spray water on their roofs to keep the flames from spreading.

A large crowd of spectators gathered to watch, but police moved them back after plate glass windows in one of the stores exploded from the heat.