An early morning fire has destroyed the Cheshire Cat Pub in rural west Ottawa.

"It’s a write off, it’s completely gutted," said pub owner Dustin Therrien who was at the scene Monday afternoon. "Everything’s burned all the way from the ground level up."

Firefighters, police and paramedics responded to the fire at 2193 Richardson Side Rd. just before 4:30 a.m. Monday as alarms were sounding.

Residents also reported smoke visible above the pub's roof.

si-ottawa-cheshire-cat-owner

Dustin Therrien, owner of the Cheshire Cat Pub, said he is more concerned about his employees than the charred building. (CBC)

Firefighters began to fight the fire from the outside and douse the flames until the blaze was under control about eight hours later. At least two dozen trucks responded to the fire, but there were not any fire hydrants close to the building.

About five hours after the fire started, the bell tower atop the pub's building collapsed to the ground and crumbled. The roof and interior of the building were severely damaged, according to Ottawa fire spokesman Marc Messier, but the building was still standing.

From 1883 to 1956, the structure was a school house. In the 1990s, what had become a rural residence was converted to a restaurant and bar. Therrien purchased the Cheshire Cat Pub in 2005 and it continued to be a popular gathering spot that employed 36 people.

"I’m just worried about my staff right now — we have a lot of people who work here that we really care about," said Therrien. "It’s just a building, I’m really worried about the people."

Nobody was inside the building, a former schoolhouse, at the time of the fire, firefighters said. A shelter bus also arrived to help assist firefighters.

Falling snow and cool temperatures has also the pub's parking lot, covered by water from the fire hose, into a slushy and icy mess.

Ottawa police reopened Richardson Side Road after closing the street between Carp Road and Huntmar Drive for more than eight hours.

The total damage is estimated at $700,000, but firefighters did manage to retrieve some items from the building.