The Earth Liberation Front — named in a banner left at the Street of Dreams arson site on Monday — has used timers and fuses in past arsons, but these devices have not yet been found in this case.
Arson investigators and a black Labrador retriever trained to sniff out accelerants converged today on the Street of Dreams cul-de-sac struck by arsonists possibly linked to the Earth Liberation Front.
But so far, federal officials say they have failed to find any evidence of the kind of sophisticated incendiary devices — with timers, fuses and fuel mixes — that were used in ELF arsons that burned timber company offices, slaughterhouses and other targets.
“There were no devices found, I want to make that clear,” said Kelvin Crenshaw, a special agent in charge with the Seattle office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who appeared at a news conference this morning.
Federal officials said the fires may have been set with “available combustibles” — something as simple as wood, paper and matches — but did not rule out that gasoline or other fuels may have been involved. To touch off such fires, the arsonists would most likely have had to be on scene as the blazes were kindled, as opposed to using timing devices that would allow them to leave before the fires started.
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The shift away from destructive incendiary devices could be an effort by the arsonist to avoid the stiff legal consequences that can result from using more sophisticated methods, according to David Gomez, an FBI assistant special agent. Arsonists who use a destructive device may be charged with a count that carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years.
The arsonists targeted five large houses in this rural area near Maltby in Snohomish County that in recent years has been sprouting new homes. Three of the houses were destroyed, including one that was burned to the ground, fed by a breached natural-gas connection that appeared to melt part of the chimney. The arsonists were unsuccessful in attempts to destroy two other homes.
It is unclear how many people might have been involved in the attack.
It could have been five people, it could have been 10 people. It could have been one person,” Crenshaw said. “We really don’t know.”
The arsonists left a banner that included the initials ELF, an apparent attempt to claim the fires were the work of the Earth Liberation Front. Similar claims have been made at fires set at new developments around the country, including several in recent years targeting new houses in Western Washington.
A banner was also left at the scene of an unresolved 2006 arson that struck a Camano Island house. Federal investigators say they will be comparing the materials, possible DNA samples and other clues to check for any connections between the two banners.
Investigators also are not ruling out other possible motives for the arsons. They say that they will follow the forensic evidence wherever it leads.
Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or firstname.lastname@example.org