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Radical group accused of burning three homes

Times Staff Writer

Radical environmentalists torched three multimillion-dollar homes Monday that developers had touted as examples of “green” building, authorities said.

The predawn blazes destroyed three furnished homes that ranged in size from 4,200 to 4,750 square feet. They were built at the end of a wooded cul-de-sac as part of a luxury home development featured in Seattle’s Street of Dreams home tour. Two other homes suffered smoke damage.

Police and FBI investigators said a spray-painted sign bearing the initials of the Earth Liberation Front mocked developers’ claims that the homes were environmentally friendly.

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“Built Green?” the sign read. “Nope black! McMansions in RCDs [rural cluster developments] r not green. ELF.”

The attack coincided with the trial of a former member of the Earth Liberation Front now in its fourth week in Tacoma, Wash. Briana Waters, 32, of Oakland faces up to 35 years in prison if she is convicted of setting a 2001 fire at the University of Washington.

Federal authorities consider the Earth Liberation Front a domestic terrorist organization.

It was clear the fires were deliberately set, said Rick Eastman, fire chief of Snohomish County District 7. Eastman said he held back his firefighters, letting the blazes burn out on their own, because he feared the homes might be booby-trapped. No injuries were reported.

Incendiary devices were found inside the homes, fire officials said, and the blazes will be investigated as acts of domestic terrorism.

The fires will probably intensify the debate over growth and preservation, and bring new tension between mainstream environmental activists and more radical elements.

Despite a nationwide building slowdown, housing construction in some Seattle suburbs, particularly north and east of Lake Washington, has continued unabated.

The homes were part of a planned development called Quinn’s Crossing at Yarrowbay Communities and were featured in Seattle’s Street of Dreams home tour last summer.

Although many cities hold tours of luxury homes, Seattle’s event claims to be “the most popular and highest-attended single site luxury home and garden tour in the U.S.”

The homes on the tour are often grouped by themes. The burned homes were listed as “green” buildings. After a period in which the public can tour the homes, they are put up for sale.

The builders heavily promoted the “built green” concept and pointed out that the homes were smaller than the 10,000-square-foot houses on previous Street of Dreams tours.

To get the “green” designation, the homes had to sell for less than $2 million and have environmentally friendly elements.

“We are saddened by this senseless act. Such actions to destroy the property of others by this means are criminal and counterproductive,” John Heller, president of Seattle Street of Dreams Inc., said in a statement.

Lois Keer, a resident of the Maltby area, walked to where Snohomish County sheriff’s deputies blocked the street to see “the shameful thing that happened.” With a frightened look on her face, she whispered that it was “odd” and “weird.”

Her husband, Loren, seemed concerned about the rapid pace of development in the area, known for its stables and boutique wineries.

“I don’t feel sorry for the developer,” he said, beginning a long gripe about over-development and “cheap pressboard materials.”

As the three homes smoldered under a slate-gray Northwest sky, federal agents searched the surrounding woods. An explosive-sniffing dog combed the area with a fire investigator.

Authorities in the Northwest have been chasing the Earth Liberation Front for years. Prosecutors took an increasingly tougher stand against the group after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The group is a collection of loosely organized cells made up of radical environmentalists and animal rights advocates. Members tend to be young, politically aware and educated.

From 1996 to 2001, the Earth Liberation Front went on a tear throughout the West, setting fires and explosions in a number of states to protest what the group saw as corporate and government complicity in ruining the environment.

The group often left messages like the one near the houses that burned Monday.

Last summer in Eugene, Ore., 11 Earth Liberation Front members were sentenced for a number of attacks, including a bombing at a car dealership.

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stuart.glascock@latimes.com

Staff writer Tomas Alex Tizon in Seattle contributed to this report.


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