Fire captain: Surveillance video shows person intentionally setting fire to Area 337 restaurant

Published: May. 22, 2023 at 11:17 AM CDT|Updated: May. 23, 2023 at 5:48 PM CDT
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Lake Charles, LA (KPLC) - A fire broke out at local restaurant Area 337 early this morning, and fire officials believe it was set intentionally.

The Kirkman Street restaurant posted a note on social media about the fire, saying the restaurant is temporarily closed, but will “soon reopen with even more passion to come back together as a family again.”

The post shows ashes in the outdoor area of the restaurant.

“I wake up every day with a passion to serve you. This place is my first home. It’s our home,” owner Gus Garden said in the restaurant’s post. “This morning I woke up to a call from the Lake Charles Fire Department. ‘Don’t tell me this,’ I told them when they gave me the news. This is not the news I want to give you, but it is what’s happening now.”

Garden initially believed the fire to be an electrical issue, but according to Lake Charles Fire Prevention Bureau Captain Brandon Spooner, surveillance video shows otherwise.

“[The video shows] a person, probably about 120 pounds, five-foot-three or -four, entering the rear fence gate of the business, walking directly to the window, setting the liquid accelerant on the window and lighting it on the window sill,” Spooner said. “It ignited immediately. They turned around and walked off pretty calmly.”

“They did have their face covered, they knew where the cameras were, they knew how to get into the premises, they didn’t try to break in, they didn’t pull any doors. They didn’t try to do anything but set the place on fire,” he said.

The owner and investigators are now looking into previous employees who may fit the description of the person in the video.

Garden said the first call came in around 2 a.m. from his alarm system provider, telling him the building had lost connection with the panel and there was no power. Soon after, he got a call from the city that his restaurant was on fire.

“Firefighters were here, and they were already cleaning, making sure that everything was down,” Garden told us earlier today. “The fire kind of started on the roof and worked its way down, you know, affecting this side of the bar.”

Area 337 has been serving Latin cuisine to the community for just over two years, and Garden hopes to continue.

“I’ll keep my attitude positive,” Garden said. “I’m gonna relocate a couple of my employees. I got a bunch of support from different restaurant owners in town, and we take care of each other. That’s why Lake Charles is Lake Charles.”

The community is holding a benefit for Area 337 at Crying Eagle on Friday, June 16.