A Minneapolis man has been charged with felony negligence after prosecutors say hookah coals he dumped near the lakeside pavilion at Bde Maka Ska caused a fire that destroyed the historic building.
Nouh Omar Elmi, 23, was charged on June 5 with one count of negligent fire causing more than $2,500 in damages.
Investigators say the fire started when Elmi and a female companion attempted to light a hookah just before 3 a.m. on May 16, according to a criminal complaint. Storm conditions at the time made lighting the coals hard, but eventually surveillance videos showed glowing embers. At about 3:17 a.m., Elmi was recorded dumping the hookah coals behind a trio of garbage cans near the southwest corner of the building, an area protected from rain, according to the complaint.
The complaint notes there are multiple safer spaces to dump the coals nearby.
As the man and woman leave the scene, flames can be seen behind the trash cans. Elmi briefly returned to the area at about 3:24 a.m. before leaving the scene.
Investigators say the flames behind the trash cans continued to build at the base of the column. The columns of the building were hollow and separation from the ground at the base of the column created negative air flow, which sucked the flames into the column. Heavy winds during the storm exacerbated the air flow, leading to building to ignite rapidly. By 3:42 a.m., the building was engulfed in flames, according to the criminal complaint.
The pavilion, which was built in 1930 and housed the lakeside restaurant Lola on the Lake, was demolished last week after the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board inspection declared it a total loss. The fire caused about $2 million worth of damage.
Park Board President Brad Bourn (District 6) said the MPRB is looking forward in the wake of the fire in a statement after the charges were announced.
“Our parks are for everyone and we’re focusing on restorative efforts after the fire at Bde Maka Ska,” Bourn said. “We also value a justice system that is restorative, instead of punitive.”
Elmi faces a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a $5,000 fine. His initial court appearance is scheduled for July 10. He does not currently have an attorney, according to court records. He has been summoned into court and was not taken into custody.