Columbus police and fire officials are investigating the Monday burglary and fire at U Save Food Mart that netted the thief $21,600 in scratch-off lottery tickets.
Officials said the fire was ignited near the register at the front of the 1326 Fort Benning Road business sometime between 6 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. After entering the convenience store through the roof, the thief made off with 30 boxes of scratch-off tickets valued at various amounts from $1 to $20 each.
Nariader Bhatia, the owner of the business, told police he found the store in flames when he arrived about 6:30 a.m. Fire Marshal Ricky Shores of the Columbus Fire and Emergency Medical Services said firefighters arrived about 12 minutes later and took 20 minutes to get the blaze under control.
“We don’t have a dollar loss yet,” Shores said. “It’s under investigation. We have gathered information on it, and we are still processing it.”
After firefighters doused the blaze, a hole was found in the ceiling directly over the cash register. A contractor called to survey the damage found another hole in the rear of the business, employee Ali Khan said Tuesday. The thief escaped through the hole in the roof.
The business had damage from the smoke and fire. Many of the contents in the business were covered with black soot or charred from the flames.
Khan believes the business was hit by a professional thief.
In front of the building, work crews discarded a pile of charred rubble from inside the building. “We hope to get back open soon,” Khan said. “We are working hard trying to get back open.”