YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — A fire that destroyed a lower North Side lounge early Saturday morning has been ruled an arson.
Fire Department Arson Investigator Capt. Kurt Wright said the first crews to arrive on the scene of SoSo’s Lounge, 232 North Ave., had an inkling the fire was set on purpose because of how the flames reacted when the crews went inside the building.
The blaze, which broke out about 1:45 a.m. Saturday, completely destroyed the building. The remains will have to be demolished.
Wright said the fire was started under an awning, spread to the awning itself, then spread quickly to the second floor. Crews could not get to the second floor because the stairs were taken out when the building was remodeled.
“Because the second floor had been blocked off, the stairwell had actually been covered over, so we did not have access to the second floor,” said Capt. Kurt Wright.
In a video that investigators have, a man dressed in black clothing with his face covered can be seen carrying a large, plastic bottle filled with a clear liquid. He spills the liquid on the ground next to a door, backs up a few steps, lights the liquid on fire and then scurries out of the way as the liquid flashes skyward.
Firefighters decided to let the building burn because they had no access to the second floor and it was not safe for anyone to enter.
Co-owner Marquise Mims, who also operates F.D. Mason Funeral Home, said the lounge was a popular spot.
“There were no crowds that had fighting or violence and different things like that. It was a safe place for the older people. It was close to the police department,” Mims said.
Mims adds that the thought that someone intentionally set the lunge on fire is unsettling.
“You could have damaged the funeral home. Who says they’re not going to come back and have retaliation towards the funeral home? You just never know,” Mims said.
High winds early Saturday morning also helped to spread the flames, Wright said.
Damage is listed at $25,000.
Anyone with information can call the Fire Investigation Unit at 330-782-0055. A $5,000 reward is being offered for information that leads to an arrest.