Arson arrest made in Chickasha restaurant fire

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CHICKASHA, Okla. (KFOR) – The State Fire Marshal officials say the investigation into the fire is still ongoing, but the Chickasha Fire Department says video shows the blaze was intentionally set and it nearly took the life of one of their own.

“Heavy smoke was showing from the building we also had fire starting to spread thru the attic space,” said Chickasha Fire Chief, Tony Samaniego.

Chickasha fire officials say a now-vacant square of dirt was a Sam’s Southern Eatery in flames when they arrived around 8:20 p.m. on Sept 20th.

Officials say crews put their lives on the line to put out the flames as a large wooden beam fell inside the structure.

“500 pounds at a minimum fell down, fell within 3 feet of one of our firefighters as he was inside trying to extinguish the fire,” said Samaniego.

The flames were eventually put out, but as investigators looked into the blaze, they say they found clues that it could have been set intentionally.

“The grill was on and the fryers were on,” said Samaniego.

Officials say the fire control devices above the appliances had been turned off.

Court records show that fire investigators were later able to see security video from inside the kitchen showing manager Nidal Al Ghazawneh come back into the kitchen after all other employees had left the building.

Then “proceeding to the deep fryer burners” and turning them on. The video showing the suspect leaving at 8:04 p.m. and the fire starting in those fryers at 8:05.

“The video itself really showed how things happened that night,” said Samaniego.

Ghazawneh is now in the Grady County Jail charged with second-degree Arson and Life Endangerment by an Act of Arson.

“This one was, we feel, an intentionally set fire that could have potentially harmed our fire fighters,” said Samaniego.

KFOR contacted the building owner. He says he just owned the building and was not part of the ownership of the restaurant.   

As for motive, officials say they cannot comment or release that surveillance video yet as its part of an ongoing investigation.

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