Crime

The arsonist who destroyed a Cordata warehouse in 2018 ordered to pay $3.53 million

A Bellingham man who is serving prison time for intentionally setting two fires days apart in November 2018, causing more than $5 million in damages, will have to pay back millions.

Craig Stuart Wise, 55, had restitution, or the money he has to pay back, set at more than $3.53 million Wednesday, Nov. 6, in Whatcom County Superior Court.

Wise was sentenced to 2¼ years in prison in March, with 1½ years probation for first-degree arson for the destruction caused in the Blue Sea Systems fire in the Cordata neighborhood in mid-November 2018. Wise was initially charged with arson in a separate case, but that case was dismissed as part of a plea deal.

Wise owes $3,482,131 to an insurance company, and another $50,000 to Blue Sea Systems, according to court records. Alan Chalfie, Wise’s public defender, said while his client didn’t object to the restitution, he said he doesn’t have the means to pay it.

In September, Blue Sea Systems announced it had returned to full production at its new facility, north of Whatcom Community College. The company makes electrical components for the marine industry.

The new facility is near its original location, which was destroyed in the fire. The company also lost $3 million in inventory.

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The new home of Blue Sea Systems at 4600 Ryzex Way in Bellingham. The company’s previous location on Sequoia Drive was destroyed by fire in November 2018. Blue Sea Systems Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Shortly before 2 a.m. on Nov. 10, 2018, a glass-break burglar alarm sounded at the former Blue Sea Systems warehouse at 425 Sequoia Drive. A few minutes later, heat sensor alarms were also set off, court records state.

Bellingham Fire responded and found black smoke coming from the end of the building, and shortly afterward, saw flames coming from the roof. The fire eventually destroyed the building, records show.

Investigators determined the fire was intentionally set. Bellingham police began linking Wise to the fire when he commented on a story about the fire on a radio station’s website, according to court records. 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 of Blue Sea Systems, court records state.

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

Wise also sent messages through Facebook to his former coworkers at Northrup Grumman in Virginia where he threatened to burn their houses down and kill them, the records state.

Police 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 2018 before he was fired for having a bad attitude and poor work quality, according to court records.

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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