Crime

Bellingham man already facing arson charges also suspected in Cordata warehouse fire

Fire damaged its Bellingham warehouse, but this company wants to stay in business

Blue Sea Systems, a Bellingham company that makes electrical parts for boats, plans to stay in business after a two-alarm weekend fire heavily damaged its warehouse in the Cordata neighborhood.
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Blue Sea Systems, a Bellingham company that makes electrical parts for boats, plans to stay in business after a two-alarm weekend fire heavily damaged its warehouse in the Cordata neighborhood.

A man already charged with setting a November warehouse fire in Bellingham’s Roosevelt neighborhood also is suspected of arson in a second warehouse fire where he previously worked, causing an estimated $5 million worth of damage two days earlier.

According to Whatcom County Superior Court documents filed Nov. 27, Craig Stuart Wise is suspected of first-degree arson and second-degree burglary stemming from the Nov. 10 warehouse fire at Blue Sea Systems — a Bellingham company that makes electrical parts for boats. Wise already was in Whatcom County Jail facing second-degree arson charges from a Nov. 12 fire of a warehouse owned by Yeager’s Sporting Goods on Nevada Street.

According to court documents on the Nov. 10 fire, a burglar alarm detected glass breakage near the break room at 1:57 a.m. at the Blue Sea Systems building at 425 Sequoia Drive in Bellingham, and, seconds later, the alarm detected that a door to the break room had been opened. Minutes after that, heat sensor alarms also were set off, and the Bellingham Fire Department responded to find black smoke coming from near the break room.

Flames soon spread to the roof and the building was destroyed by fire, ruining approximately $3 million in inventory and causing an additional estimated $2 million in damage to the building and office equipment, according to the documents.

Though the cause and origin of the fire are still being investigated, court documents said investigators have determined it appears “likelier than not that the fire was intentionally set,” as multiple rocks perhaps used to break windows were found on the floor of the break room and the origin of the fire seems to have been in an area under the stairwell where combustibles, including toilet paper, paper towels and toilet seat covers, were stored. The documents also said there were no apparent ignition sources in that area.

Documents say investigators began linking the fire to Wise when they found that he commented on a story about the fire posted on radio station KGMI’s website, saying, “Heard they employ homeless for minimum wage. They were recently bought out and soon to send jobs to Mexico. Sounds fishy.”

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Firefighters pour large streams of water on the fire at Blue Sea Systems early Nov. 10. A former temporary employee at the warehouse, who has already been charged with setting another Bellingham warehouse fire on Nov. 12, is suspected of starting the fire. Bellingham Fire Department Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. Nov. 10, court documents state, Wise contacted a former neighbor, talked about burning a warehouse and showed the neighbor a photograph of a warehouse with scorch marks that resembled the Blue Sea Systems building.

Police learned that Wise was a temporary employee at Blue Sea Systems for approximately 10 days in August, before he was fired for what the documents said was having a bad attitude and poor work quality. Police also discovered from an anonymous report through a national arson tip line that Wise told the caller he was angry at the way Blue Sea Systems treated him and that the company “would get what is coming to them,” documents state.

On the day of the fire, video surveillance showed a distinctive white 1983 Ford Fairmont four-door with a broken taillight turn onto Sequoia Drive near the Blue Sea Systems building at 1:54 a.m. Nov. 10, court documents state. Wise owns a similar Fairmont that also has a broken taillight.

Wise also was seen at the Walgreens on Sunset Drive approximately 20 minutes before the fire, where employees called to complain that Wise was inside talking about “being a bounty hunter and looking for someone to kill,” court documents state. Wise allegedly admitted to police that he was at Walgreens, but had driven straight home. He also said nobody else drove his car that night and that he didn’t set any fires.

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Shawn Robert, left, and Stepan Baydak of Scrap-It install fencing around the damaged Blue Sea Systems building Nov. 12 in the Cordata area. A former temporary employee at the warehouse, who has already been charged with setting another Bellingham warehouse fire, is suspected of starting the fire. Robert Mittendorf The Bellingham Herald

A day after the Blue Sea Systems fire, court documents say Wise sent messages via Facebook to former co-workers at Northrup Grumman in Virginia threatening to burn their homes down and kill them, allegedly telling one, “Haven’t done this since I was a kid. I was a bit of a vandal and explosive maker. I never burned anyone (though).”

A day after allegedly sending those messages, court documents say an eyewitness reported seeing Wise near the warehouse located at 2701 Nevada St. at approximately the time that fire was reported at 5:29 p.m. Another witness also reported seeing Wise hitting a warehouse door with what appeared to be a hammer.

When Wise, whose apartment was 50 yards from the scene of the fire, was contacted by officers, he reportedly smelled of gasoline and his arm appeared singed or burned, documents said. After obtaining a search warrant, officers also found a small jar of gasoline in Wise’s apartment.

Firefighters were able to extinguish the Nov. 12 fire before it spread throughout the warehouse, limiting damage to approximately $1,500, according to court documents.

A jury trial for the Nov. 12 Nevada Street warehouse fire is scheduled to begin Jan. 22, while Wise is scheduled to be arraigned in the Nov. 10 Blue Sea Systems fire on Friday.

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