The fires that burned five "Street of Dreams" luxury show homes in Woodinville, Wash., north of Seattle yesterday were not set by an explosive device, according to FBI and ATF officials investigating the arson scene.
In speaking to reporters at an informal press conference this morning, Kelvin Crenshaw, special agent in charge of the Seattle field office for the ATF, said the fire was started by "available combustibles" at the scene, but did not identify the specific materials used.
When asked by reporters to confirm reports in the press that a flammable liquid had been found at the scene, Crenshaw said officials do not know whether it was an accelerant or water.
"Right now there is a lot of speculation going on," said Crenshaw, looking to diffuse some of the hysteria.
Fred Gutt, a spokesperson for the FBI who did not attend the press conference, said the explosions that eye witnesses heard when the fire ignited are believed to have stemmed from natural gas lines that were feeding the fire. Gutt said once the gas company shut off the lines the explosions subsided.
The FBI is ruling the arson an act of domestic terrorism and said the likely party is the eco-terror group the Earth Liberation Front, largely because a banner with ELF's name was found at the scene. However, investigators are not ruling out any other parties, including builders.
"We are not looking at the builders specifically, but we have to look at everything," said the ATF's Crenshaw, when asked by one reporter if it was possible that the builders--desperate after having the homes go unsold for several months--set the fire. The Building Industry Association of Washington has offered a $100,000 reward for any information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the arsons that ELF has claimed in the state of Washington.
"While ELF used to spike trees and sabotage logging equipment, they're now burning down homes," said BIAW President Brad Spears. "ELF's increasingly brazen attacks on urban targets have BIAW and law enforcement worried that it is only a matter of time before someone is hurt or killed by an ELF terrorist," he said.
ELF is an eco-terror group whose members use economic sabotage and property destruction as a means to call attention to suburban sprawl. In recent years, ELF has claimed responsibility for numerous fires involving new homes, causing millions of dollars in property damage.
The "Street of Dreams" is an annual showcase of luxury homes in the Seattle region. The latest round of arsons especially troubled builders because this year's show focused on green building technologies. The banner presumably left by ELF read "Built green? Nope. BLACK!" The banner was sent to the FBI crime lab.
"This just shows that it's never enough for them," said Erin Shannon, public relations director of the BIAW. "We can build the greenest home and it's still not good enough," she concluded.
Anyone who has knowledge of the fires is asked to call the Arson Hotline at 800-55-ARSON or contact local authorities in the Seattle area. For local TV coverage of the fires, check out http://www.komotv.com.
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