MONTREAL - A community centre in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve caught fire early Tuesday morning, hampering the efforts of two charitable organizations offering food and clothing to the underprivileged.

The building at 2201 Bercy St., north of Ontario St. E., which used to be a church, caught fire at 3 a.m., leaving the site badly damaged.

The church was home to Maison Adrianna and Chevaliers de Colomb, two charitable organizations that have been a lifeline for people like Annette Ouellette for decades.

"It's a big loss for all of us. A very big loss," said Ouellette. "We need this place because we're not rich, and we need this place because they help us and they help our kids."

Twice a week, families gathered at the church for food baskets and clothing. Roxane Lapointe was baptized there, and started using the services a year ago, when her son Nathan was born.

"They were so wonderful, because every Tuesday and Thursday, I would come and get food, and it helped so much, especially when you have a child -- or several," said Lapointe.

The fire left 200 needy people without food on Tuesday.

"(We serve) welfare people, unemployed people, people with no salary. Last year we were having 130 families a week--now we serve about 200 in one day," said Reynald Leboeuf of Maison Adrianna.

Nobody was in the building at the time, but a large quantity of flammable materials inside made tackling the fire difficult.

When the fire ignited, it quickly spread throughout the building, requiring a massive five-alarm response from firefighters.

"One firefighter suffered injuries to his knee," said Chief of Operations Jean Leblanc.

Firefighters have not yet determined what sparked the fire, but Leblanc said it began in the back end of the building and spread through the structure, causing about $500,000 in damage.

The organizations put out by the fire will continue to operate out of another community centre located at Ontario St. E and Gascon Ave., and hope to resume their normal services shortly.

Townhouse fire sparks evacuations

Meanwhile 17 residents of a three-storey apartment building had to flee their homes around 3 a.m. Tuesday when fire ripped through their building at 2274 Lionel-Groulx Ave. near Vinet St.

"Five of them had to be transported to the hospital for smoke inhalation," said Leblanc, however their injuries were not serious.

The fire started on the ground floor, and quickly spread to the upper floors of the triplex.

A second alarm was issued at 3:15 a.m. and in the end, 50 firefighters and 18 trucks were needed to control the flames from spreading to the adjoining townhouses.

The fire was finally brought under control after 4 a.m., but the damage had already been done. Residents of the ground and second floor will not be able to return to their homes, while those on the third floor are expected to be able to return home later Tuesday.