Joshua L. Nichols appears at his preliminary hearing in Lewis County Superior Court June 26 on suspicion of arson and burglary.

Chehalis Man Accused in Arson Over Property Dispute Sentenced to 32 Months

By Natalie Johnson / njohnson@chronline.com

A Chehalis man accused of burning down two buildings on a neighbor’s property after a long-running dispute over an easement was sentenced to spend more than two and a half years in prison Wednesday. 

Joshua L. Nichols, 39, was originally charged June 26 in Lewis County Superior Court with first-degree arson, second-degree arson and second-degree burglary. 

On Aug. 24, he pleaded guilty to the first two counts. The burglary charge was dismissed. 

He was sentenced Wednesday to 32 months in prison and 18 months of community custody.

“This thing has escalated from childish things of yelling and screaming to cutting our tires, to breaking out windows on our cars, to finally arson,” said Bruce Norris, the victim of the arson,  who spoke at Nichols’ sentencing hearing. 

According to court documents, deputies from the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office responded at 4:51 a.m. June 24 to a structure fire in the 200 block of U.S. Highway 12. 

Deputies were previously aware of a long-running dispute between the owners of the structures on fire and the neighbors — Nichols’ family’s home. One such dispute was reported the previous day, according to court documents. 

A storage shed and well pump house were on fire when crews arrived. One structure directly abutted a home that was occupied.

Deputies contacted Nichols at his workplace in Astoria, Oregon, later that morning. 

According to court documents, he admitted to starting the fires using a lighter and old clothes.

Norris said one of the two fires was set directly below a bedroom window in his home where his wife and two children were sleeping, adding that he felt Nichols could have been charged with attempted murder. 

While Norris spoke, the deep-seated dispute between the families became evident in the courtroom as Nichols shook his head and turned around to converse with family members behind him.

“I don’t see any more of that, you understand that,” said Superior Court Judge Joely O’Rourke, to some objection from Nichols. “You’re not going to turn around, you’re going to sit right there.”

Nichols chose not to speak at his sentencing.

Nichols’ father, Delbert L. Nichols, 60, of Chehalis, was charged the day after his son, on June 27, with harassment, threat to kill, and violation of a civil anti-harassment order for allegedly confronting Norris at his son’s preliminary appearance 

His case is still active and scheduled to go to trial the week of Oct. 16. 

Despite the animosity between the parties, Norris asked O’Rourke not to order a lengthy prison sentence, instead suggesting rehabilitation.

“I can forgive Joshua. I do need to be repaid our damages,” Norris said. “I think he’s going to turn into a complete criminal. He’s already on that path … I think three years in prison, you get used to that lifestyle.”