Crime

‘It’s a sad, unfortunate situation’ attorney says as man who started Hohl fire sentenced

Here’s what remains of Hohl Feed & Seed

Fire officials said the fire that destroyed Hohl Feed & Seed in Bellingham, Wash., on Monday, Feb. 18, 2019, was not accidental and likely was caused by a person.
Up Next
Fire officials said the fire that destroyed Hohl Feed & Seed in Bellingham, Wash., on Monday, Feb. 18, 2019, was not accidental and likely was caused by a person.

The transient man who started a fire to keep warm in mid-February that ultimately ignited a two-alarm blaze and destroyed the historic Hohl Feed & Seed building in downtown Bellingham was sentenced to a month in jail Monday in Whatcom County Superior Court.

Paul Jonathon Wolfe, 56, pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree reckless burning, a felony, and was sentenced to 30 days in jail, according to court records. Wolfe has spent the past 26 days in jail while his case moved through the court system. Wolfe’s bail was initially set at $50,000 but was later reduced to $15,000, according to court records.

Wolfe got credit for time served and was released from jail Monday, according to Whatcom County Jail records. A restitution hearing has not yet been set.

“It’s a sad, unfortunate situation for Mr. Wolfe, for the community and for the owners and customers at Hohl Feed & Seed,” said Whatcom County Senior Deputy Public Defender Darrin Hall.

Whatcom County Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jonathan Richardson said Wolfe didn’t receive any breaks, as he was convicted of the crime he committed.

“The standard range sentence for reckless burning was shorter than what we and the community would have liked to have seen, but it was clear from the evidence that he didn’t have any intent to hurt anyone, the animals inside the building or the building itself,” Richardson said.

Piecing together the downtown fire

Police believe Wolfe started the fire in a brick chimney in the back alley between two buildings that were part of Hohl Feed & Seed early Feb. 18.

Surveillance video showed around 3:30 a.m., two people entered the small alcove between the two buildings and stayed there for around a half hour before leaving the alcove. Five minutes later, a third person ran into the alcove and appeared to remove items, including a backpack, before running away. Flames were visible at this point, according to court records.

Wolfe was identified by a witness after police released a portion of the video, records show.

The temperature at Bellingham International Airport at 4 a.m. on Feb. 18 was 28 degrees, according to the National Weather Service records.

Young_HohlFire_3.jpg
Fire destroyed the Hohl Feed & Seed building in downtown Bellingham Feb. 18. Paul Jonathon Wolfe, 56, was sentenced to a month in jail Monday for reckless burning. Lacey Young The Bellingham Herald

Fire crews arrived shortly after 4:20 a.m. to find the alley-side of the Hohl building that was built in 1902 in flames. Firefighters were able to rescue 78 animals from the fire, but were not able to get to approximately 10 birds and a snake.

Benefit planned for Hohl Feed & Seed

The Wild Buffalo is putting on a benefit in honor of Hohl Feed & Seed on April 5. Doors open at 8 p.m. and the show, with Polecat and DJ Birdman, starts at 9 p.m. The event is 21 and over. Advanced $10 tickets are available on the Wild Buffalo website and people are encouraged to give “whatever they can or want” at the door that night, said Wild Buffalo owner Craig Jewell.

There will also be a silent auction. If people are interested in donating an item to be bid on, they can email info@wildbuffalo.net.

All proceeds from the event will go to the Whatcom Humane Society at the request of Hohl’s owners, Jewell said.

More information on the event can be found on the Hohl Feed and Seed Facebook page or the Wild Buffalo website.

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.
  Comments