Arsonists strike at Harris Ranch California feedlot; activists claim responsibility

Jan 13, 2012

In the early hours of Sunday morning, Jan. 8, arson fires claimed 14 big-rig trucks and several cattle trailers in a storage yard at Harris Ranch, one of the nation’s largest feed operations. It took firefighters 45 minutes to contain the fires. The destruction was attributed to arson following the fires, and activists claimed responsibility on Monday, Jan. 9.

The fires were set around 4 a.m. Sunday morning. In a statement released Monday, activists claimed to have placed canisters of accelerant fitted with digital timers under four trucks. A kerosene-soaked rope carried the fire to the other 10 trucks. The 14 trucks were consumed by the fires and declared a complete loss. Harris Ranch representatives said they would assess the trailers for salvageability. No damage figures have been released.

As reported by the Fresno Bee, the destruction of the rigs “should have pretty much zero interruption in our operation,” according to Harris Ranch’ s Mike Casey, vice president of human resources. Due to the size of the operation and preestablished contingency plans, subcontracted replacement vehicles were delivered shortly after the fires were put out.

Despite the relatively minor impact on daily activities at Harris Ranch, Casey called the event troubling. John Harris, chairman and chief executive of Harris Ranch, said he was appalled and alarmed by the attack.

Harris Ranch representatives and the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department have not yet confirmed the anonymous activist claim of responsibility. However, Casey did say they had suspected activist involvement from the beginning of the investigation.

The activists claiming responsibility for the attack released a statement via anonymous email through the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) Press Office. ALF stressed that it had no part in the illegal activity, but distributes statements from those who do.

The anonymous statement cited “the horrors and injustices of factory farming” as a motivation for the attack and expressed satisfaction at the property damage inflicted on Harris Ranch. The language of the statement was blatantly hostile, referring to Harris Ranch as “the enemy” and ending with “until next time.”

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) strongly condemned the attacks. NCBA President Bill Donald had the following to say regarding the events at the Harris Ranch.

“This is not only an attack on a family-owned and operated business; this is a domestic terrorist attack on our nation’s providers of food and fiber. This extremist behavior goes above mere activism and the freedom of speech. These criminals are threatening lives and causing substantial economic harm.

“Anyone concerned about the welfare of animals would not orchestrate attacks on individuals who are experts at caring for these creatures. Ranchers are undoubtedly the very best caretakers of livestock. Cattlemen and women implement the highest animal handling and food safety standards designed by veterinarians, animal behavioral experts and researchers.

“These extreme attacks are nothing more than bad people doing bad things and they must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, just as any other criminal would be in this country.

“As a rancher, a father and a proud grandfather, I feel for the families impacted by this senseless attack. As president of the leading national cattle organization, I applaud my fellow cattlemen for their efforts to provide the safest and highest quality beef to consumers in the United States and beyond.”

Activists using arson to terrorize animal ag is nothing new. Activists associated with ALF or the related Earth Liberation Front (ELF) have regularly used fire to cause destruction to those they see as their enemy.

In California in 2003, ELF-associated activists torched a number of dealerships throughout the summer. Hummers, Fords and Chevy SUVs were targeted. Attacks included setting fire to vehicles on the dealerships lots and defacing others with spray paint. Damages were estimated at well over a million dollars. 2006 saw a similar spate of SUV arsons in California, Oregon and Massachusetts. Several arrests were made and at least three people are still in prison today.

In 2010, the self-named ALF “Lone Wolf” took credit for, and was arrested and sentenced for, several arsons in Colorado and Utah.

His targets included a Utah Tandy Leather Factory, a Utah restaurant which served foie gras, and a Colorado sheepskin factory. He is still in custody. — Kerry Halladay, WLJ Editor