The Earth Liberation Front (ELF), the most active radical environmentalist group in the United States, is suspected of burning down a housing complex under construction in San Diego, California, on August 1, 2003. If true, it will be the most costly ecoterrorist attack ever in the U.S.
The blaze, which officials estimate caused around $50 million in damage, destroyed a five-story building and brought down a 100-foot-high crane. The heat from the fire was so severe that window blinds melted in apartments 500 feet away. About 400 residents were evacuated from nearby apartment buildings.
Twenty law enforcement agencies are investigating the arson, including the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Captain Jeff Carle, spokesman for the San Diego Metro Arson Strike Team, said the fire was not an accident. "Someone, some persons came onto this site and set a fire with the intent to burn it to the ground," Carle said.
A 12-foot banner reading "If you build it, we will burn it," along with the initials ELF, was found at the scene. The San Diego Union-Tribune also reported receiving an e-mail from the group saying the banner "is a legitimate claim of responsibility by the Earth Liberation Front."
ELF cells have claimed responsibility for burning several luxury homes and housing developments across the county in recent months. On June 3, 2003, a fire was set at the Sterling Oaks Development in Chico, California. Graffiti reading "Save Our Bio Region ELF" was left at the scene.
On June 4, two houses under construction were burned in Washington Township, Michigan. Graffiti spray-painted on nearby construction equipment read "ELF" and "stop sprawl." On March 21, 2003, two homes under construction were set on fire in Washtenaw County's Superior Township near Ann Arbor, Michigan. The garage door of a nearby house was vandalized with spray paint reading, "ELF, no sprawl."
ELF has claimed responsibility for actions against what they perceive as the evils of urban sprawl for several years. In December 2000, ELF set fire to a condominium under construction in Long Island, New York. ELF said the homes were "future dens of the wealthy elite" and announced "an unbounded war on urban sprawl."
In 1998, ELF claimed responsibility for the arson of a Vail, Colorado, ski resort that caused $12 million in damage, the costliest act of eco-terrorism in American history at the time.