An east-Ottawa community is coming together after a major fire in New Edinburgh destroyed a number of shops on a popular strip and filled the air with toxic smoke for hours.

People who live in the area couldn't hold their emotions back as they surveyed the damage from the fire that started in a Home Hardware store on Beechwood Avenue.

Many nearby residents say the strip represented an ideal community and they're very sad to see it in ruins. At least three businesses have been demolished. Two more could follow suit.

"We really worked hard to build the business up. So, it's sad to see it all destroyed like this," said store owner Nancy Phillips, who lost her business in the fire.

A bakery in the area suffered only a bit of water damage. Although it remains standing, the owner says losing the other businesses will leave a void in the community.

"This area is very much the hub of the neighbourhood and we've lost some key businesses along here which is really unfortunate. There's twenty to thirty people who are unemployed today," bakery owner Chris Green told CTV Ottawa on Thursday.

Fire crews are now surveying the wreckage and investigating the structural integrity of stores that are still standing. One of the concerns is the basement that connects several stores along the strip.

Depending on the outcome of the investigation, neighbouring stores may also have to be knocked down.

Fire crews spent most of the previous day battling the blaze, which sent toxic smoke into the air for hours.

As a precaution, the city issued an advisory Wednesday, warning residents in the immediate area to stay indoors. That advisory has since been lifted. However, there is still concern for people who suffer from lung or heart disease.

"The air quality has been checked both by our staff and a private contractor and things are suitable unless they have particular respiratory issues," said Ottawa Fire Chief John deHooge.

Air quality tests conducted Thursday also cleared the way for about 200 evacuated residents from nearby buildings, including a seniors' residence, to return home.

The fire has left about a dozen people who lived in apartment units above the strip homeless. The Salvation Army has stepped in to help.

"We basically just watched it, more or less, burn all day. It was not a great day," said Sandra Shaddick, one of the displaced residents.

Beechwood Avenue remains closed between Vanier Parkway and MacKay Street. The cause of the fire remains unknown.

With a report from CTV Ottawa's John Hua