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Charges: Man caused Lola on the Lake fire by emptying hookah coals

The fire destroyed the restaurant on Bde Maka Ska.
Lola on the Lake

A 23-year-old man has been charged in connection with the Lola on the Lake fire at Bde Maka Ska, but not with arson.

Noah Elmi, of Minneapolis, has been charged with a single count of negligent fire causing property damage of more than $2,500.

According to the criminal complaint, Elmi was trying to smoke hookah outside the pavilion in the early hours of May 16, but was finding it difficult as wind from an approaching storm was making lighting the coals difficult.

Surveillance footage later revealed that Elmi managed to get the coals lit, and about 20 minutes later he dumped the embers from the hookah – a pipe used to smoke flavored tobacco – behind three trash cans next to the Lola on the Lake building.

As the criminal complaint filed by the Hennepin County Attorney's Office said, these trash cans were protected from the rain but not from the wind, with surveillance footage showing a fire taking hold a short time later.

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"The columns are hollow and have a separation at the base from the ground," the complaint notes. "This creates negative air flow, sucking the flame into the space, causing the fire to ignite in the interior of the building, up the interior walls, and into the roof. High winds created constant air flow and movement."

By the time the fire was finished with the building, it had caused $2 million-worth of damage, leading to the pavilion having to be destroyed.

Elmi was identified after a woman also captured in the surveillance footage came forward and identified him.

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