Ottawa

Arson unit investigating Allium Restaurant fire

The Ottawa police arson unit is now investigating a suspicious fire at Allium Restaurant early Friday morning.

Holland Avenue reopened between Spencer and Wellington streets

Allium Restaurant was badly damaged by a fire that struck the two-storey mixed commercial and residential building early Friday morning. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

The Ottawa police arson unit is now investigating a suspicious fire at Allium Restaurant early Friday morning.

At about 2:40 a.m., a neighbour called 911 to report "hearing a big bang" and seeing flames at the rear of the two-storey building at 87 Holland Ave., firefighters said in a news release.

The intensity of the fire forced crews to fight the flames defensively from outside.

We are stunned, shaken and overwhelmed all at the same time by this fire.- Arup Jana, executive chef

A woman and child have been displaced from a neighbouring building, firefighters said. The Red Cross and Salvation Army were called in to assist them.

No one was injured.

In an email to CBC, the restaurant's executive chef, Arup Jana, said staff are in shock. 

"The only thing I can say now is that we are stunned, shaken and overwhelmed all at the same time by this fire. We are very worried about all of the staff, and what everyone is going to do. We are relieved that no one was physically hurt."

Jana was travelling back from Chicago, and said he would have more to say on Monday.

Witness Helen Shapiro, 69, called 911 after she heard a loud bang and saw fire behind the Allium Restaurant at 87 Holland Ave. (CBC)

3 separate fires, witness says

Helen Shapiro, 69, had a bad dream and was already awake when she heard the bang and called 911, she told CBC's Hallie Cotnam later Friday morning.

"I heard a bang and I thought maybe it was a snowplow, or maybe cars parked in the back. Then I saw a red shadow on my ceiling. ... and I thought it was maybe some bright lights from a car," she said.

Helen Shapiro says she saw flames in the Allium Restaurant when she looked out her back window at around 2:40 a.m. 0:45

"I looked out the window and to my surprise, I saw the back of the [restaurant] on Holland and the porch was there, and there were three fires starting.... So [my husband] told me to call [firefighters] right away ... and it was a good thing I did because if I hadn't called at that point, I think that it would have spread to the other buildings and the whole block would have gone up."

Ed Shapiro, Helen's husband, said the porch was on fire, there were flames coming from what looked like a gas pipe, and what looked like a green bin was on fire.

Firefighters battled the flames defensively from outside the building. (Scott Stilborn/Ottawa Fire Services)

The fire escalated quickly and continued for some time.

"For two hours it was going. It was really unbelievable. It was just kind of an unbelievable situation, because I haven't actually seen a fire that close," Helen Shapiro said.

Holland was closed between Spencer and Wellington streets, but has since reopened, police said.