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Washington State News

Grandview Man Sentenced to Prison for Starting Destructive Fires Causing Millions in Property Damage

Yakima, Washington – Vanessa R. Waldref, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, announced that Christopher Vaughn Schlax, age 48, of Grandview, Washington has been sentenced after pleading guilty to three counts of Damage by Fire to a Building or Personal Property Used in Interstate and Foreign Commerce. Chief United States District Judge Stanley A. Bastian imposed a sentence of 60 months imprisonment to be followed by 3 years of supervised release.


According to court documents and information presented at the sentencing hearing, Schlax was involved in a series of burglaries on June 27, 2022. A short time later, Schlax and an alleged accomplice traveled to the Lineage Logistics warehouse in Grandview, Washington. To distract first responders from the burglaries, Schlax set fire to a pallet storage area at the warehouse. The fire caused $423,654 in property damage to the warehouse and presented a significant danger to firefighters called to fight the fire.

Early in the morning of July 4, 2022, Schlax and the alleged accomplice made plans to burglarize the Dollar Tree store in Grandview. To distract from the burglary, Schlax and the alleged accomplice first drove to the fruit bin lot of River Valley Fruit. Schlax got out of the vehicle and lit a fire. The fire caused more than $1.5 million in damage to River Valley Fruit’s property.

A short time later, Schlax and the alleged accomplice attempted to carry out their plan to burglarize the Dollar Tree. Schlax used a cutting torch to cut into a safe in the office of the Dollar Tree store. As a result, Schlax started a fire inside the Dollar Tree. The arson caused more than $1.8 million in damage to the Dollar Tree building and property.

“Mr. Schlax not only committed burglaries, but then, to cover up his crimes, he started fires that endangered firefighters, law enforcement and members of the community. The fires started by Mr. Schlax also caused millions of dollars in property damage,” stated U.S. Attorney Waldref. “I am grateful for our first responders who keep our community safe. I also want to commend the excellent work of our law enforcement partners and federal prosecutors involved in this case.”

“ATF is the only U.S. Government agency with fire and arson investigation as part of its core mission,” said ATF Seattle Field Division Special Agent in Charge Jonathan Blais. “For Mr. Schlax to intentionally start fires to distract first responders from his burglaries is especially cruel. Because of the destruction and danger he caused to the community, this sentence is clearly warranted.”

This case was investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Courtney Pratten and former AUSA Frances Walker, who indicted the case.

The alleged accomplice has been indicted on charges of Damage by Fire to a Building or Personal Property Used in Interstate and Foreign Commerce. The accomplice, who has entered a not guilty plea, was arraigned on November 14, 2022, and is currently awaiting trial.  The indictment against the accomplice contains mere allegations.  All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

A video statement from U.S. Attorney Waldref can be found here. 


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