A suspicious fire that destroyed a Delray Beach hookah lounge early New Year's Day and caused $70,000 in damages is being investigated as possible arson, fire officials said.
Ali Baba Hookas Lounge, at 2709 S. Federal Highway, was gutted by the blaze, which is being investigated by the Division of State Fire Marshal and Delray Beach police.
Delray Beach Fire Captain Curtis Jepsen said fire and emergency crews responded to the fire at about 3:30 a.m. to find a "large amount of fire and heavy smoke."
"The business was closed so the building was unoccupied when we got there," Jepsen said. "It took about 20 minutes for us to completely extinguish the fire."
Close to a dozen fire and EMS units responded, Jepsen said. There were no injuries.
According to a police report, an on-duty officer saw "large clouds of dark smoke" coming from the back of the hookah lounge and told dispatch to send fire crews.
Reached by phone, the owner of the business said Wednesday he did not have insurance and that as a result, he has lost everything to do with the establishment.
"No insurance," said Rand Yasin, 45, of Boca Raton.
The total financial loss was estimated to be about $70,000, said Deborah Jamison, spokeswoman for the Florida Division of State Fire Marshal.
"It's an ongoing investigation at this point," Jamison said, confirming that the fire was being investigated as possible arson.
Asked about the blaze, Yasin said he had no idea why somebody would possibly torch the place.
"I don't know, I swear to God, I don't know anything," said Yasin, who is identified on Florida corporate filings as the president of Ali Baba Hookas Inc.
Through sobs, Yasin said the establishment was 6 years old and that he had been the owner for the past two or three years. He described the establishment as a "place to chill" but said the "business was not doing well."
A Facebook page for Ali Baba's had 1,010 likes as of Wednesday.
Photographs posted in June 2011 showed young women dressed in lingerie, with cash stuffed in their bras. Other photos showed raves and dance parties at the lounge, including one group of pictures from July 2010 showing a young man breathing fire.
Another photo album showed patrons playing Twister.
According to a 2009 article by University Press, Florida Atlantic University's student publication, Ali Baba was described as a "college-kid friendly" establishment that does not serve alcohol. A relaxing place on weeknights, the lounge turns "into a club" on weekends when DJs play, the article said.
A hookah is a water pipe used to smoke flavored tobacco. Hookah lounges have increased in popularity across South Florida in recent years.
Yasin said he closed the lounge at about 2:15 a.m. New Year's Day. He said he has no plans to reopen.
"I have nothing now," Yasin said. "I have lost everything, my friend. I don't know why this happened to me."
Jamison said that anybody who might have seen anything suspicious in the vicinity of the fire is asked call the Fire Marshal's arson tip line at 877-662-7766.