An overnight fire has left a gaping hole and broken hearts in one New Brunswick community. But the people of Sussex are already talking about rebuilding a row of cherished historic buildings that was destroyed in the blaze.

The massive fire lit up the night sky in downtown Sussex around 10 p.m. Tuesday and reduced the trio of buildings, which date back to the 1880s, to charred rubble on Broad Street.

“It’s the heart and soul of Sussex and to me it’s hard to believe that building is gone,” says Beth Powning, who co-owned the buildings in the 1970s.

Most recently, the area was home to an art studio, restaurant and a soap-making boutique started by British immigrants who fell in love with the character of the street.

“Everyone who comes to Sussex likes Broad Street,” says soap-maker Erling Ophaug. “They spend a day here. They come across to the cafes and it is an integral part of Sussex.”

Several businesses were lost in the fire and the tenants of at least three, upper-storey apartments have been left temporarily homeless.

One of the buildings was demolished by an excavator to keep the fire from spreading to the rest of the block.

Fire Chief Bill Wanamaker says it’s an option they don’t like to use, but fire crews had to use it last night.

“First of all, they are extremely dry and second, they have been remodeled several times and you have a lot of hidden spaces where fire can travel,” says Wanamaker of the buildings.

Everyone made it out of the buildings safely and no serious injuries were reported but area residents are trying to come to terms with the loss of their beloved historic buildings.

“It’s devastating, what happened on Broad Street,” says Mayor Marc Thorne. “That’s one of the most historic sections of our community and it’s had some well-known establishments there for a lot of years.”

But there is already determination to fill the gap.

“We need to put that building back somehow. I have no idea how, but I don’t want to see a parking lot there,” says Powning. “I don’t want to see a fast food restaurant there. I want to see those businesses back.”

A Canadian Red Cross team has arranged emergency motel lodging for a family of four while other tenants are staying with family and friends.

There is no word yet on what caused the fire but officials are investigating.

With files from CTV Atlantic's Mike Cameron