Negligent fire charge in Lola's blaze

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

A Minneapolis man has been charged in connection with the fire that destroyed Lola’s on the Lake, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office announced Wednesday.

Nouh Elmi, 23, was charged with a single count of negligent fire causing property damage of more than $2,500. He was charged by summons and his first court appearance is set for July 10.

According to the criminal complaint, neighbors reported a fire in the early morning hours of May 16 at the restaurant at 3000 East Calhoun Parkway.  The damage was estimated at $2 million and the structure had to be razed. Firefighters noticed three garbage cans, without lids, in the southwest corner of the building. The roof above the cans was burned and sagging and other signs indicated fire started behind the three cans at the base of the wall.

Surveillance video was recovered from Lola’s and a neighboring business. It showed that at about 2:45 a.m. Elmi and a woman approached Lola’s from the south and sat at table close to the building. Elmi took out a hookah from a bag and about 3 a.m., he tried to light the hookah, the complaint states.

The video shows the wind from an approaching storm made lighting the coals used for the hookah difficult, but eventually the video shows glowing embers, according to the complaint.  About 20 minutes later, Elmi dumped the embers from the hookah behind the three trash cans. The area was protected from the rain but not the wind.

Eventually, the video showed flames at the base of a column. The columns are hollow and have a separation at the base from the ground, creating a negative air flow, the complaint states. That sucked the flame into the space, igniting the interior walls and moving up into the roof. By 3:42 a.m., the building was engulfed in flames.

Criminal Complaint (PDF)