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Friday Harbor arson suspect charged in Federal Court

Defendant allegedly bought lighter fuel, set fire, and left the island by ferry as fire smoldered

Seattle – A 33-year-old Whidbey Island, Washington resident was charged by criminal complaint with arson in connection with the April 6, 2022, fire that destroyed or damaged multiple businesses on San Juan Island, announced U.S. Attorney Nick Brown.  Dwight Christianson Henline will be brought to federal court in Seattle for his initial appearance on the charge.

This aerial image, taken April 8,  shows the extent of the damage to historic buildings in Friday Harbor. Photo by Chris Teren

“Federal investigators worked carefully and methodically with their state and local counterparts, using video evidence and sales records to identify Mr. Henline as a suspect in this fire,” said U.S. Attorney Nick Brown. “The blaze is estimated to have caused millions of dollars in damage in a very small community. It took a community effort to stop the fire from spreading further. Holding the arsonist accountable is now our priority.”

According to the criminal complaint, arson investigators determined the fire originated on the back deck of the Crystal Seas Kayaking building at 40 Spring Street. They also determined, based on video and other evidence, that the fire was caused by someone lighting an ignitable liquid. A video recording from the adjacent Windermere Real Estate office indicates the fire began at about 10:04 p.m. on April 6, 2022, then died down. It smoldered until it intensified and began to grow again at about 3:15 a.m. on April 7, 2022. A local citizen saw the fire at about 3:43 a.m. and reported it. Although firefighters arrived from throughout the islands, the fire seriously damaged or destroyed the Crystal Seas Kayaking building, the Windermere Real Estate office, and the building housing Crow’s Nest Coffee and Herb’s Tavern before it was extinguished.

ATF personnel and local investigators collected various surveillance videos from San Juan Island businesses to try to determine who set the fire. These videos show Henline in the proximity of the fire’s origin on April 6, 2022. Using these videos, investigators were able to track Henline’s movements in Friday Harbor immediately before and after the fire. Of significance, Henline purchased candy, energy drinks, bleach, and ammonia at King’s Market with a debit or credit card in the early evening. At about 9:53 p.m., Henline used cash to buy lighter fuel at a small convenience store. That nearly empty bottle of lighter fuel was later found with Henline’s belongings at the home where he was staying on Whidbey Island.

After buying the lighter fuel, Henline walked through some alleys in Friday Harbor, then crossed Spring Street in the direction of Crystal Seas Kayaking. One minute after the fire began, Henline walked away from that area towards the harbor, collected a suitcase he had stashed in the lower deck area beneath the Friday Harbor Ice Cream Company, then boarded the ferry bound for Anacortes. 

Investigators later obtained a warrant for Henline’s arrest. A Langley Police Department officer located and arrested Henline on that warrant on April 16, 2022, on Whidbey Island.

Initial estimates are that the fire caused millions of dollars of damage to multiple businesses, including Crystal Seas Kayaking; San Juan Property Management; San Juan Excursions; Windermere Real Estate; Crow’s Nest Coffee; and Herb’s Tavern.

Arson is punishable by a mandatory minimum 5 years and up to 20 years in prison.

The charges contained in the complaint are only allegations.  A person is presumed innocent unless and until he or she is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

The case is being investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF), the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office, and San Juan County Fire and Rescue, with assistance from the Langley Police Department and the Island County Sheriff’s Office.

The case is being prosecuted by Erin H. Becker and Cecelia Gregson.

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