Suspect in Hohl fire pleads not guilty to charge of reckless burning

Paul J. Wolfe at this arraignment on March 8, 2019. // Photo by Zoe Buchli

by Esther Chong and Zoe Buchli 

Paul Wolfe, 57, pleaded not guilty to a charge of reckless burning in the first degree at his arraignment at the Whatcom County Courthouse on Friday, March 8.

According to the Whatcom County Jail Roster, Wolfe remains in custody as of March 8 at 11:30 a.m..

Reckless burning in the first degree is a class C felony, according to RCW 9A.48.040.

“By causing a fire and [damaging] a building, that’s reckless burning in the first degree. That’s what happened here,” Prosecuting Attorney Jonathan Richardson said following Wolfe’s preliminary appearance on Feb. 28.

Wolfe was arrested on Feb. 27 in connection with the Feb. 18 fire at Hohl Feed and Seed, according to a city press release from Feb. 28.  

Roger Payne identified Wolfe as the person in the surveillance footage who was with him the morning of the fire, Whatcom County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Kellen Kooistra said at Wolfe’s preliminary appearance.

While reading the probable cause statement, Kooistra said Payne stated in his interview with police that he was with Wolfe when the fire began, and that they started the fire to stay warm.

“Every way you look at it, this is a tragedy in many ways. We lost a historic building, a long-standing local business, the small animals that perished. Also we have the tragedy of an unsheltered person who’s just trying to keep warm, allegedly, on that night,” Court Commissioner Angela A. Cuevas said at Wolfe’s preliminary appearance.

According to an AccuWeather Report for Feb. 18, temperatures in Bellingham dropped as low as 25 degrees Fahrenheit the morning of the fire.

Wolfe’s trial is scheduled for April 29, with a pre-trial confirmation hearing set for April 24.


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