Sydney Building business owners are expecting the worst when the full extent of damage to the Civic landmark is revealed after Monday morning's inferno.
Pic shows the front of Coo restaurant after a fire at the Sydney Building. Photo: Melissa Adams
Parts of the interior of the building were gutted and plumes of smoke filled the sky after a fire broke out in a restaurant.
Several businesses were directly affected by the fire and more than a dozen evacuated, after an explosion inside Japanese restaurant Coo.
The Emergency Services Agency - which received the first call at 9.46am - said the facade of the Sydney Building, one of the oldest major buildings in Canberra, was only minimally damaged.
An ESA spokesman said one fire crew plus a commander and the Bronto skylift hydraulic platform remained at the site overnight to check hot spots, which were all on the first floor.
"ACT Fire and Rescue expect to hand the investigation over to police and Work Cover on Tuesday," the spokesman said.
The fire closed the entire city bus station for the day, including platforms 10 and 11 on Northbourne Avenue, with services operated from Alinga Street.
Road closures also disrupted Civic traffic, with several roads remaining shut on Tuesday.
The incident controller, ACT Fire and Rescue superintendent Steve Edwards, said there was nothing to indicate the fire was suspicious.
He estimated the damage would be hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The city bus station will be closed for services from Tuesday morning, with services departing from Northbourne Avenue, Alinga Street, Marcus Clarke Street.
Additional transport officers will assist passengers.
London Circuit between Northbourne Avenue and Akuna Street has been reopened to all traffic. The car park on London Circuit adjacent to Mooseheads nightclub remained closed on Monday night.
As businesses nervously wait to calculate the cost, the ACT government established a special information service.
Andrew Bennett works in a second-storey business in the Sydney Building on the same side as Coo, and described the confusion surrounding the incident. "We heard an explosion and then someone ran up the stairs to tell us that there was a fire," Mr Bennett said.
"As I got out I saw the front of Coo punched out."
Mr Bennett said he didn't expect an immediate return to his office.
"From what I understand there's extensive damage in there - water damage is what I've been told," he said.
Salsabor Dance Studio co-owner Andrea Paez will return to Canberra from the United States after learning of the fire. She said the studio, which she has run on the second-floor with her sister Raquel for about four years, was damaged by water and it was expected to be closed for several months.
While some classes had been cancelled, she was looking for other venues and said she hoped the studio would be back on track next week.
Peter Spencer was working across the road at Tossolinis when he heard an explosion.
''I came out and saw the shop front had exploded out, then the roof started smoking,'' he said.
''The wooden shop front came off its hinges and came out of the building.
''I thought it must have been builders because there was no one around. Then I saw the smoke.''
An ESA spokesman said that although businesses had been occupied at the time of the explosion, police and emergency services had evacuated the area.
Fire crews searched the area as much as they could, but intense heat forced them to retreat. Authorities said on Monday night they believed that everyone got out.
One woman was assessed by intensive care paramedics for smoke inhalation, but did not need to go to hospital.
The ESA said the Sydney Building appeared to be structurally intact, with some damage to the roof and internal fixtures. Authorities did not believe there was unbonded asbestos in the building. The Florentine-style Sydney and Melbourne buildings, which sit on either side of Northbourne Avenue, are among the first major buildings built in Canberra city. Mooseheads co-owner Mary Miladinovic said it was really sad, ''particularly seeing the young guy who owns Coo trying to get in, but the police stopping him.''
It was also a bit of deja vu. ''It is 10 years since our fire, obviously there is a lot of damage to the building. We are pretty much fine, maybe some smoke damage,'' she said.
Other nearby businesses include the Phoenix bar, Dina's Liquor, East Bar and Grill and Coo's sister restaurant, Iori.
Head chef at London Bar Singh Sem said police evacuated him and his co-workers shortly after the fire started.
''About 10am we'd just started work and it was smoking,'' he said.
''We were told by police to leave.'' Pancake Parlour owner Paul Mogan said he knew all the business owners who were affected and they were devastated by the blaze.
''The restaurant profession is the hardest way to make a living, and with a random spark or something you can lose everything,'' he said.
The ACT Government has established a special information service for business operators impacted by the Sydney building fire.
Dramatic photos of plumes of smoke billowing from the building have quickly spread on social media; here are some of the best: