Fire swept through two businesses here Friday afternoon, forcing evacuation of people living in apartments above the buildings and gutting the Ben Franklin store.

Firemen said the blaze broke out about 3:30 p.m., apparently in the rear of an apartment above the Ben Franklin store. The store was virtually destroyed, and there appeared to be heavy fire, water and smoke damage to the adjacent Reed Drug building.Firemen 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.

Within an hour, there were eight fire trucks and dozens of firemen battling the blaze, from Rigby, Bonneville, Madison and Jefferson counties and Idaho Falls. Flames leaped 50 feet into the air and the billowing smoke could be seen for miles.

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

Two doors down from the center of the fire, Mayor Keith Scott, owner of an auto parts store, and a line of volunteers passed out parts hand-to-hand to remove them from the fire danger.

The fire appeared to be confined to the two buildings.

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.

Emergency medical teams were on the scene, treating several firemen who suffered minor injuries from heat exhaustion and a flailing water hose. None of the injuries appeared to be serious and firemen said they did not believe anyone was hurt when the apartments were evacuated.