DIXON, Calif. -- A fire swept through a livestock auction building Sunday and a self-described spokesman for an environmental group said it was deliberately set in a campaign against the industry, authorities said.
The blaze broke out shortly before 2 a.m. in the Dixon Livestock Auction building and flames had destroyed half the two-story building by the time about 40 firemen arrived. The fire was contained in about 30 minutes and damage was estimated at about $250,000. There were no injuries.
'The cause is unknown but a group claiming responsibility contacted a national news group' later Sunday, Dixon Fire Chief Rick Dorris said.
A male caller identifying himself as a spokesman for Earth First said an incendiary device had been planted in the 175-by-100 foot enclosed building, 'which ignited and burned down the facility.'
The caller said the fire was aimed at the livestock industry 'because it causes irreparable damage to the environment.'
The caller also said the group spray-painted slogans that appeared on the walls of the California Cattlemen's Association office in Sacramento during the night. The foot-high slogans in green paint included 'Earth First' and 'Agribusiness Kills.'
An official spokesman for Earth First said late Sunday he had no knowledge of the fire or plans for such action, but that people associated with Earth First could have been involved.
'We don't believe in arson, but we have been involved in certain acts of property damage,' co-founder Mike Roselle, 34, Canyon, Calif., said. 'But this is not something we would even discuss at our meetings, much less condone.'
He added, 'We have been attracting more members from the fringes of the animal rights group, and I think what we have here is some influence from that segment.'
He said the slogans painted in Sacramento 'are consistent with our anti-grazing campaign.' The group opposes grazing on public lands.
Fire investigators from Dixon, Solano County and the state Fire Marshal's office were investigating the cause of the fire and the claim, Dorris said.
The caller contacted both United Press International in San Francisco and The Associated Press, but Dorris said the fire department was not contacted.
The caller said the fire was set 'because we are opposed to the livestock industry because it causes irreparable damage to the environment by putting chemicals in food and water and destroying natural habitat for wildlife.
'We will continue carrying out our actions against the livestock industry in the future until it stops.'
The Earth First group, which has advocated damaging logging equipment in the Pacific Northwest and 'spiking' logs to prevent cutting, was founded in 1979 in Wyoming and claims a mailing list of about 10,000 people in 50 states, but has no membership rolls, said Roselle, one of four founders.
'We have no way of monitoring the behavior of the people who associate with our movement,' he said, describing the fire as 'similar to actions taken by the animal liberation group.'
The group, along with opposing grazing on public lands and certain logging practices, pushes for wilderness and water conservation and animal protection among other issues, he said.