A 24-year-old man has pleaded guilty to carelessly disposing of embers from a hookah that accidentally started a fire in a lakeside restaurant at a longstanding Bde Maka Ska pavilion.
Nouh O. Elmi, of Minneapolis, admitted to a count of gross-misdemeanor negligent fire on Tuesday in Hennepin County District Court in connection with the blaze that resulted in the razing of the 1930s building. Most recently, the historic structure housed Lola on the Lake restaurant concession on the northeast edge of the lake.
Elmi, who was initially charged with a felony, was immediately sentenced and had a one-year term in the county workhouse stayed for two years by Judge Theodora Gaitas.
Instead, he was ordered to participate in the restorative justice program, which helps those convicted of certain minor offenses connect with support services and also seeks to help repair the harm done.
Elmi dumped hot coals from the hookah behind garbage cans on the building’s southwest corner, causing a blaze overnight that eventually engulfed the structure on May 16, 2019. A hookah is a water pipe with a long, flexible tube used to smoke flavored tobacco. The tobacco is heated indirectly with coals or wood embers.
The loss from the fire was estimated at more than $2 million. Elmi was not ordered by the judge to pay restitution as part of his sentence.
“Our office left that decision to the court,” Lacey Severins, spokeswoman for the County Attorney’s Office, said Thursday.
The board’s insurance paid for the site’s demolition and cleanup, said Park Board spokeswoman Robin Smothers. Insurance also has provided money that will go toward constructing a replacement for the pavilion, but that amount might not cover the full cost of a new building, Smothers said.
Any additional money for a new structure will be funded through other options, either taxpayer money or from private sources, that have not yet been identified, she said.
“We hope to hire a design firm later this summer,” she said. “Once that happens, community [input] would begin, likely in the fall.”
Lola on the Lake, which took over the space in 2018, did not rebuild but is up and running at the same location with an abbreviated food truck schedule.