bowling alley fire

Waterloo Police are investigating an overnight fire at Maple Lanes that began with a robbery.

WATERLOO — Police are investigating after a group of robbers held a bowling alley maintenance worker captive and lit the Waterloo, Iowa, business on fire while he was still inside.

Bowling alley fire

Waterloo Police are investigating an overnight fire at Maple Lanes that began with a robbery.

The Maple Lanes employee was able to escape without any injuries, but the bowling center at 2608 University Ave. suffered significant damage, according to fire officials.

When crews with Waterloo Fire Rescue pulled up to the scene around 4:30 a.m. Tuesday, they found heavy smoke coming from the building, said Battalion Chief Ben Petersen.

“We had fire in the front pro shop, bar, kitchen areas … We have fire in this front portion. We haven’t had any in the back,” Petersen said. He said the flames extended into the ceiling.

He said he didn't believe the actual bowling lanes had been damaged by flames, but fire officials said they suspect the rest of the building will have significant smoke damage.

“It was basically a robbery … And it appears they set the fire and left,” said Fire Chief Pat Treloar. “Right now, we are dealing with it as an intentionally set fire.”

Mutual aid was called to area fire departments. Crews from Cedar Falls, Hudson, Raymond, Evansdale and Gilbertville were the scene out of abundance of caution and to cover in case there was another fire in town, Treloar said. A drone from a neighboring department was hovering over the scene to five firefighters a bird’s-eye view.

The city fire marshal and police are investing the blaze.

Police Maj. Joe Leibold said the overnight maintenance employee was working at about 3:15 a.m. when three suspects entered the building. They shoved and kicked him and made him stay face-down on the floor, Leibold said.

The worker was told not to move and could hear activity elsewhere in the building, Leibold said. He said after about an hour, the worker smelled smoke and could feel intense heat and fled. He ran to Fire Station No. 4 --- about a block away at University and Ansborough avenues.

Police who arrived at the scene found items from Maple Lanes scattered around the neighborhood. Investigators are asking anyone with information to contact the police department at 319-291-2515 or Cedar Valley Crime Stoppers at 855-300-TIPS (8477). Tips may also be left at WWW.CVCRIMESTOP.COM Tips may also be sent with TipSubmit or by texting the word CEDAR plus the information to CRIMES (274637).

Maple Lanes has been locally owned and operated since 1958, according to its website.

Harry Strom built the 24-alley establishment that featured state-of-the art features.