Street of Dreams homes burned, eco-terrorists suspected

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Explosive devices were found inside multimillion-dollar show homes that burned in a suburb north of Seattle Monday, fire officials said. Authorities also found a spray-painted sign purportedly left by a radical environmental group at the scene.
Fire Chief Rick Eastman of Snohomish County District 7 said fire crews discovered the devices inside the "Street of Dreams" houses and were able to remove them.

The FBI said the fires in the four homes were being investigated as a potential domestic terrorism act. Agents from the FBI and Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were assisting local authorities in the investigation.

No injuries were reported from the fires, which began before dawn in the wooded subdivision and were still smoldering by midmorning.

"Our first reaction was shock and an extreme sadness," said Jayme Mattson, director of operations for builder Grey Lundberg Inc., whose Street of Dreams house, The Urban Lodge, was destroyed.

"We're just grateful that no one was injured and there was no loss of life," she said.

"It just makes me sick," said Bob Hoffman, the Greater Realty agent representing Copper Falls, a Lockie Homes house that was one of those that burned. "It's totally gone."

Hoffman said fire officials told him a fourth house was spared because an arson device inside it didn't go off. That house, Seattle Home Design's La Belle Fleur, recently went pending with a buyer, and would have been the first of the five to sell, he said.

Hoffman said he had two buyers seriously interested in Copper Falls, after battling a slow market for months.

"I've got probably at least eight months of my life into that house," he said. "My wife and I have been out there every single weekend doing open houses."

The spray-painted sign, a white sheet that had the initials of the Earth Liberation Front in scraggly red letters, mocked claims that the homes were environmentally friendly, according to video images of the sign aired by KING-TV.

"Built Green? Nope black!" the sign said.

Street of Dreams is an annual show, with versions in many cities, where builders erect show homes on the same street in a new subdivision. The five 2007 Street of Dreams houses aimed to be more environmentally friendly than previous years by cutting sizes from at much as 10,000 square feet to between 4,200 and 4,750 square feet and gaining certification through Built Green, a green-building program run by the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties.

"The whole project's theme was about the environment," Hoffman said. "They did a great job of environmentally doing the right thing."

Mattson noted that The Urban Lodge was the street's only five-start Built Green home and had achieved gold certification through the National Association of Home Builders' Green Home program.

The homes are in Yarrow Bay Development Co.'s Quinn's Crossing community, in the Echo Lake area. The development, which will have up to 43 more homes, will require the homes to be certified through Built Green and preserve three-quarters of their 115 acres as open space.

Hoffman said he was going through, in his mind, everyone who visited Sunday's open house at Copper Falls.

"There was no suspicious activity there at all," he said. "I was the last one to leave."

The blazes were set in multiple places in separate houses, Eastman said. He confirmed that the ELF sign was found at the scene. The group is a loosely organized collection of radical environmentalists authorities say is responsible for other arsons in the Northwest.

A woman is currently trial in Tacoma for a suspected ELF fire at the University of Washington in 2001. Briana Waters, a 32-year-old violin teacher, is accused of serving as a lookout while her friends planted a devastating fire bomb.

The fire is one of the most notorious in a string of arsons that investigators say were perpetrated from the mid-1990s to 2001 by ELF.

No one was hurt in the arson at UW, but its Center for Urban Horticulture was destroyed and rebuilt at a cost of $7 million. It was targeted because the ELF activists mistakenly believed researchers there were genetically engineering trees, investigators said.

The homes are in a development near the headwaters of Bear Creek, which is home to endangered chinook salmon. Opponents of the development had questioned whether the luxury homes could pollute the creek and an aquifer that is a drinking water source, and whether enough was done to protect nearby wetlands.

"It's very disappointing to take a situation where we're tying to promote good building practices -- Built Green practices -- and that it's destroyed. It's extremely disappointing. I don't understand the logic in that," said Doug Barnes, the Northwest division president of Centex Homes in Kirkland and the immediate past president of the Master Builders Association of King & Snohomish Counties. He was a judge at the 2007 Street of Dreams.