Charges State Fire Started From Hookah EmbersBy Mary McGuire

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A man has been charged with negligently causing a fire that destroyed a historic pavilion alongside Bde Maka Ska last month.

According to the complaint, the May 16 fire began early in the morning after surveillance video showed a man and a woman near the building.

The video showed the two at around 2:45 a.m. The criminal complaint says the two were seen sitting at a nearby table, attempting to smoke from a hookah. After about 20 minutes, 23-year-old Nouh Elmi was shown dumping the embers of the hookah behind the three trash cans near the pavilion.

That area, the complaint states, was protected from the rains that hit overnight, but not the wind.

The fire that ensued engulfed the building, with damage estimated at $2 million. Fire investigators said that the way the roof and garbage cans were burned indicated that the fire began there. The building itself had to be totally razed as a result of the damages.

Elmi specifically faces one felony count of negligent fires to property valued at $2,500 or more. If convicted, he faces up to three years and/or a $5,000 fine.

Local criminal defense attorney Joe Tamburino says he’s surprised Elmi wasn’t charged with a more serious crime.

“It’s such a low charge for such devastating damage,” Tamburino said.

He believes he won’t face a severe punishment given the low-level felony charge.

“It doesn’t call for prison, and quite frankly, a judge could give him no time or some community work service,” Tamburino said.

Elmi is not in custody as he was charged by summons. He only has a few driving violations on his record.

Mary McGuire

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