Logo
Print this page

Fire smoldered for hours before flaring (Probable cause statement posted)

The fire that caused an estimated $10 million damage in Friday Harbor appears to have been started by an arsonist at 10:04 p.m. April 6, 2022. At that time Herbs Tavern was full of customers and employees. The 123 West hotel had guests.  

The fire was noticed at 3:43 a.m. April 7 and fire engines were on scene at 3:46 a.m.  According to ATF fire investigators it is  not unusual for a fire caused by ignitable liquids to smolder for hours before flaring up once combustible materials dry out sufficiently. 

Dwight Henline, 33, of Friday Harbor was arrested on April 16 in Island County. The probable cause statement describing the rationale for arresting Henline includes the following information: 

On April 6, 2022 at approximately 7:17 p.m. Dwight Henline was contacted by Deputy Holt at his vehicle in the WSF C-lot to serve a trespass warning letter for a local church property. At the time of the contact, Henline told Deputy Holt that he was planning to leave the island and go stay with a family member in Oak Harbor.

At approximately 7:50 p.m. on that evening, a subject matching Henline's description is seen leaving a suitcase near the bottom of the steps near the Cheesecake Cafe. 

At approximately 9:53 p.m. Henline is seen purchasing an 8 oz yellow bottle of lighter fluid from a local business. 

At approximately 10:04, a flash and fire is seen from the area behind Windermere Real Estate. 

At approximately10:05 p.m., a subject matching Henline's description is seen quickly leaving the are between the Cask and Schooner and Crystal Seas Kayaking before retrieving a suitcase at the bottom of the steps by the Cheesecake Cafe. That subject then walks toward the walk-on section of the ferry terminal. 

At approximately 10:13 p.m. Henline is seen boarding the ferry to Anacortes, carrying a backpack and pulling a suitcase. In Anacortes, Henline is seen getting into a waiting sedan.

Henline called his mother for a ride from the Anacortes Ferry terminal the night of April 6, he told her, "I am done with Friday Harbor." He had lived on San Juan Island since June 2021. 

Henline appeared in San Juan County Superior Court Wednesday afternoon, April 20, 2022. He was charged with one count of first-degree arson. Judge Kathryn Loring set bail at $500,000. The prosecution had asked for a $1 million bail, the defense for $10,000.

The lower bail amount combined with a condition that Henline live at his mother's house in Island County was an option Defense Attorney Alex Fitz thought might work.  Henline had been evicted from his Friday Harbor rental according to Fitz. 

Judge Loring didn't agree noting that Henline's mother had refused to cooperate with law enforcement when they were looking for Henline. Loring set bail at $500,000. 

Arraignment was set for May 2, 2022. At that time Henline will enter a plea.

Aerial view of the destruction. Chris Teren photo 


FULL PROBABLE CAUSE STATEMENT: 

I am Lukas Peter. I am a Detective with the San Juan County Sheriff's Office, and I assisted the investigation in San Juan County Sheriff's Office Case Number 22-002073 jointly with Special Agents with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF).

There is probable cause to believe that Dwight C. Henline (04/11/1989) committed the crime(s) of Arson in the first degree, RCW 9A.48.020.

This belief is based upon the following facts and circumstances which occurred in San Juan County, State of Washington:

On Thursday, April 7, 2022 at approximately 0343, San Juan County Sheriff's dispatch received a call from a citizen who observed flames emanating from the rear of the Crystal Seas Kayaking Building at 40 Spring St, Friday Harbor, WA. San Juan County Fire units arrived to fight the ensuing fire, including elements from Orcas and Lopez Island Fire Departments. Fire units continued to fight the fire until approximately mid-day, April 7. The fire spread to Windermere Real Estate, Crow's Nest Coffee, and Herb's Tavern, which are on the same block as Crystal Seas Kayaking, resulting in severe damage or total destruction of those businesses. Cost estimates are ongoing but are projected to be in the millions of dollars. Assistance was requested from the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (A TF).

Per Assistant Fire Chief Noel Manin, fire commander of the scene, the fire was inherently dangerous to firefighting personnel due in part to risk of building collapse, propane tanks, fire entering attic space, and exposed electric lines that were not secured at the time of firefighting efforts.

A TF personnel conducted a multi-day examination of the fire and investigation of the scene. This examination and investigation involved approximately 20 members of the A TF National Response and approximately 10 members of the A TF Seattle Field Division. The team included certified fire investigators, certified explosive specialists, electrical engineers, fire protection engineers, and other specialists. The certified fire investigators concluded the fire was incendiary. In this context incendiary is defined as a willful ignition of fire in an area, or under circumstances where or when there should not be a fire. Due to the origin and incendiary nature with the surrounding circumstances, the cause of the fire would be knowing and malicious.

Investigators reviewed a CCTV video from the Windemere Real Estate Office that covered windows which faced towards the rear wooden deck area of Crystal Seas Kayaking. At approximately 2204, April 6, 2022 investigators observed a bright flash of light. The flash of light lasted for approximately 34 seconds and then began to diminish in brightness, and flicker.

Based upon an analysis of the video, it is the combined opinion of the subject matter experts from the ATF National Response Team that the video depicts fire dynamics consistent with an ignitable liquid being introduced into the fire scene and ignited. After the ignitable liquid is ignited, the fire grows rapidly in intensity, producing bright light. As the ignitable liquid is consumed, the light produced by the fire diminishes. A TF experts have observed similar fire dynamics in laboratory settings where ignitable liquids were used. Further, ATF experts assert it is not unusual for a fire caused by ignitable liquids to smolder for hours before flaring up once combustible materials dry out sufficiently.

Investigators reviewed CCTV videos from many businesses in Friday Harbor, and Dwight C. Henline was identified by San Juan County Sheriff's deputies in several videos. Of relevance to this case:

On April 6, 2022, at approximately 1917, Henline was contacted by Dep. Holt at his vehicle in the Washington State Ferries C-lot to serve a trespass warning letter for a local church property. At the time of contact, Henline told Dep. Holt that he was planning to leave the island and go stay with a family member near Oak Harbor.

At approximately 1950 on that evening, a subject matching Henline's description is seen leaving a suitcase near the bottom of the steps near the Cheesecake Cafe.

At approximately 2153, Henline is seen purchasing an 8 oz yellow bottle of ighter fluid from a local business.

At approximately 2204, a flash and fire is seen from the area behind Windermere Real Estate.

At approximately 2205, a subject matching Henline's description is seen quickly leaving the area between the Cask and Schooner and Crystal Seas Kayaking before retrieving a suitcase at the bottom of the steps by the Cheesecake Cafe. That subject then walks toward the walk-on section of the ferry terminal.

At approximately 2213, Henline is seen boarding the ferry to Anacortes, carrying a backpack and pulling a suitcase. In Anacortes, Henline is seen getting into a waiting sedan.

ATF Special Agent Heller and I (Detective Lukas Peter) contacted Henline's family member near Oak Harbor. She informed us she received a phone call from Henline advising he was "done with Friday Harbor" and requested to be picked up from the ferry that night. The family member advised she brought him to her house before transporting him to another family member near Langley several days later.

Investigators attempted to contact Henline in Langley on April 13, 2022. Henline initially agreed to speak with investigators after work. When called a second time, Henline declined to meet with investigators, saying he had fallen 15 feet out of a tree, injuring his ankle. A recorded telephone interview was conducted in which Henline reiterated he left Friday Harbor because he was "done with that place". Henline denied purchasing any lighter fluid and provided an account of his movements on the evening of April 6, 2022 that was inconsistent with movements as recorded on CCTV security footage. It appears Henline's statements to us were untruthful.

On April 15, 2022, investigators served a search warrant on a Langley, WA residence with the assistance of local law enforcement. Henline was stated to have left approximately 30 minutes prior to our arrival. Numerous articles of evidence were collected, including a mostly-empty bottle of lighter fluid consistent with what Henline purchased on April 6, several lighters, as well as clothing consistent with what was worn in surveillance footage on that day. A family member advised if Henline did not want to be caught, he would not be caught.

On April 16, 2022, I obtained an arrest warrant signed by the Honorable Judge Loring. At approximately 1600 on that day, Henline was arrested by a Langley Police Officer and transported to Island County Jail. SA Heller and I attempted an interview with Henline, but he refused to speak with us. Henline had no obvious ankle injury.

Date and Time of Arrest: _April 16, 2022 ~1600_ Arresting Deputy: _Ofc. N. Hathaway, Langley Police Department ___ _

This declaration has been prepared and is being submitted to a court, a prosecutor, or a magistrate from an electronic device that is owned, issued, or maintained by the below­identified criminal justice agency.

I hereby certify (declare) under penalty of perjury under the laws of the State of Washington that the foregoing is true and correct. (RCW 9A.72.085)

 

Copyright 1999-2022 San Juan Islander All Rights Reserved.