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Thursday, April 14, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 a.m.

Officials investigate attempted arson in Sammamish

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

Enlarge this photoJOHN LOK / THE SEATTLE TIMES

A "highly suspicious" garage fire broke out at a home in the 20900 block of Inglewood Hill Road yesterday morning. The home had been under construction intermittently for more than two years and was three weeks from completion, according to the developer.

Federal officials are trying to figure out whether an attempted arson and a garage fire at two Sammamish homes yesterday are connected to an extremist environmental-activist group.

At the scene of the foiled arson, according to police and witnesses, a threatening message was found scrawled on a white sheet: "Where Are All The Trees? Burn, Rapist, Burn."

A "highly suspicious" garage fire also broke out around the same time in another home under construction a few blocks away, said King County sheriff's spokesman John Urquhart.

The message was reported by a passer-by about 7:30 a.m. When deputies walked into the home in the 20500 block of Inglewood Hill Road, the natural gas had been turned on and an "incendiary device," apparently designed to light the gas on fire, was found inside, Urquhart said.

Police switched the gas off and the 3,800-square-foot, unfinished home, with a view of Lake Sammamish, was not damaged. No one was injured.

A white sheet was draped in the dirt outside, with a message etched in blue spray-paint and signed "ELF."

The note suggests the involvement of the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), considered a domestic terrorist group by the FBI. The group claimed credit for a string of arsons and attempted fires in Snohomish County subdivisions last April.

ELF could not be reached for comment yesterday.

On the group's Web site yesterday, someone had posted a news account of the two Sammamish incidents under the heading, "Earth Liberation Front News."

The incendiary device found in the Sammamish home is similar to the devices found in the Snohomish County arsons, said Kelvin Crenshaw, special agent for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

It is unclear whether the ELF was involved. Federal officials said they were trying to determine whether the attempted arson was connected to the fire up the street.

The fire destroyed the garage of a 3,400-square-foot home in the 20900 block of Inglewood Hill Road. It started between 5 and 6 a.m., Urquhart said.

The home had been under construction intermittently for more than two years and was three weeks from completion, said David Ammon, the developer. Several buyers were interested.

Ammon and his business partner will have to rebuild part of the home.

"We're gonna gather our wits about us," he said.

Down the hill, the lot where the threatening message was found spreads over more than an acre, about a half-block from Lake Sammamish. The entire lot, with the exception of a couple trees, is cleared, and according to city officials, the owner plans to build two more homes on the property.

The white, two-story home already there will be completed in about a month.

The owner of the property could not be reached yesterday.

The Sammamish City Council recently passed a tree-retention ordinance for new development, but the law doesn't apply for old building applications, city officials said.

The ELF recently has shifted its focus from sabotaging logging sites to fighting suburban development in forested areas, federal officials said. The group is made up of loose-knit, individual cells that don't necessarily know each other. Membership is informal, and anyone can claim action on behalf of ELF.

On April 20, 2004, two homes under construction were destroyed in the Snohomish-area Lobo Ridge subdivision with firebombs made with two-liter bottles full of flammable liquid. Two other homes in the neighborhood were targeted but not seriously damaged. Similar, unexploded incendiaries were found in two other Snohomish County subdivisions.

Other recent arsons attributed to ELF included a fire in 2003 at a five-story apartment complex under construction in San Diego that caused $50 million in damage, and a May 2001 arson that destroyed the University of Washington's Center for Urban Horticulture.

Snohomish County is the fastest-growing county in the state, and development of single-family homes has remained steady since 1998, county officials said.

Growth in Sammamish, meanwhile, has slowed because of a building moratorium and a lack of large tracts of vacant land, city officials said. The city still allows about 400 new homes a year that were vested before the moratorium.

The neighborhood where the attempted arson occurred includes mostly older homes, with some pockets of in-fill development.

Staff reporter Christopher Schwarzen contributed to this report.

Ashley Bach: 206-464-2567 or abach@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company


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