Crime

Arsonist in $5 million Cordata warehouse fire ‘was lucky no one was hurt or killed’

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 Bellingham man will spend a little over two years in prison for intentionally setting two fires days apart in November that caused more than $5 million in damages.

Craig Stuart Wise, 54, was sentenced Thursday in Whatcom County Superior Court to 2¼ years in prison, with 1½ years probation for first-degree arson for the destruction caused in the Blue Sea Systems fire in the Cordata neighborhood.

Wise was initially charged with first-degree arson and second-degree burglary in one case, and second-degree arson in a second case. As part of a plea deal, Wise’s burglary charge and second arson case were dismissed in exchange for an agreed sentencing recommendation at the highest end of the sentencing range for first-degree arson.

“Mr. Wise, this was a very serious crime and everyone involved was lucky no one was hurt or killed in the process of this. I hope you’re able to spend your time in incarceration thinking about how you want to live your life,” Whatcom County Superior Court Judge Deborra Garrett said. “We all have conflicts, but you need to think about how you want to act on conflicts because the potential for harm here was huge, and it sounds like a great deal of harm was caused.”

A no-contact order was put in place between Wise and Blue Sea Systems for 20 years. A restitution hearing will be set at a later date.

The warehouse fires

On Nov. 12, Bellingham Police and Bellingham Fire responded to the report of a structure fire at a warehouse owned by Yeager’s Sporting Goods at 2701 Nevada St. When they arrived, they saw flames at a door on the west side of the building, according to court records.

Fire crews were able to extinguish the fire before it spread to the entire structure, and damage was estimated to be around $1,500, court records state. Wise became a suspect after a neighbor said he saw Wise near the building at the time of the fire. Another witness also said they saw Wise hitting the door of the warehouse with a hammer, records state.

During an interview with police, Wise denied starting the fire, but officers noticed he smelled of gasoline and hair on his arm appeared to be singed, records show. Wise told officers the burned hair was from when he was cooking earlier in the evening, but his roommate said neither he nor Wise were cooking that night, court records state.

During a search warrant served on Wise’s apartment, officers found a clear, plastic juice container in Wise’s bedroom that had a small amount of gasoline in it, and a BBQ lighter on a chair.

Wise was then arrested on Nov. 12.

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Firefighters pour large streams of water on the fire at Blue Sea Systems early Nov. 10, 2018, in Bellingham. Bellingham Fire Department Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Wise also became a suspect in the Blue Sea Systems fire two days earlier, on Nov. 10. Shortly before 2 a.m., a glass-break burglary alarm sounded at the Blue Sea Systems warehouse at 425 Sequoia Drive. A few minutes later, heat sensor alarms were also set off, records state.

Bellingham Fire responded and found black smoke coming from near the break room at the end of the building. Shortly afterward, flames were seen coming from the roof and fire eventually destroyed the building, according to court records. About $3 million in inventory was destroyed, and another $2 million in building and office equipment was also destroyed.

Blue Sea Systems, which makes electrical parts for boats, planned to remain in business after the fire, as previously reported by The Bellingham Herald.

Investigators deemed the fire was likely intentionally set, as multiple rocks were found on the floor of the break room. The origin of the fire seemed to come from an area under the stairwell where toilet paper, paper towels and other light combustibles were stored, records state.

Police began linking the fire to Wise when he commented on a story about the fire on radio station KGMI’s website, records state. About two hours after the fire at Blue Sea Systems, Wise contacted a former neighbor and talked about burning a warehouse. Wise also showed the neighbor a photo of what looked like a manufacturing warehouse with scorch marks that was later determined to be consistent with the description of the Blue Sea Systems warehouse.

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Shawn Robert, left, and Stepan Baydak of Scrap-It install fencing around the damaged Blue Sea Systems building Nov. 12, 2018, in the Cordata area. Craig Stuart Wise, 54, was sentenced Thursday in Whatcom County Superior Court to 2¼ years in prison, with 1½ years probation for first-degree arson for the destruction caused in the Blue Sea Systems fire. Robert Mittendorf The Bellingham Herald

During this time, Wise also sent threats through Facebook to his former coworkers at Northrup Grumman in Virginia and threatened to burn their houses down and kill them. A day later, he sent messages saying Blue Sea Systems went up in flames, court records show.

Police also received a tip from a national arson hotline about Wise, who had said he was angry because he believed Blue Sea Systems had treated him and other workers badly. Wise temporarily worked for Blue Sea Systems for about 10 days in August before he was fired for having a bad attitude and poor work quality, according to court records.

Surveillance footage captured Wise’s vehicle near the scene of the fire. Prior to the fire, employees at the Walgreens on East Sunset Drive called police to complain that Wise was in the store talking about being a bounty hunter and looking for someone to kill, records state.

Reporter Denver Pratt joined The Bellingham Herald in 2017 and covers courts and criminal and social justice. She has worked in Montana, Florida and Virginia.
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