Arsonist hits Rancho Veal slaughterhouse again

March 25, 2003



Babe Amaral, owner of one of the few surviving slaughterhouses in the state, said he tires of the periodic attacks on his Petaluma business, such as a recent arson fire.

"It gets old, it gets real tiresome," said Amaral. "What they don't realize is it takes a Scud missile to knock this old building out."

He said the building was built decades ago with thick concrete walls, reinforced to hold the hanging weight of a meat packing plant.

The Rancho Veal plant on Petaluma Boulevard North was struck by arsonists, who set a fire that was reported about midnight Saturday by a passer-by. The fire caused about $10,000 damage to the roof.

Spray-painted on the back of the building was a message, "stop the killing," believed to have been left by animal rights activists who are suspected of starting the blaze, authorities said.

Rancho Veal has been a target of animal rights activists' demonstrations in past years. In January 2000, it was struck by late-night arsonists who set off incendiary devices in three buildings. The resulting fires caused about $250,000 damage.

This time around, the attack was less sophisticated, investigators said. Whoever did it climbed onto the roof and apparently poured some type of flammable liquid across the galvanized metal roofing of one building before setting it ablaze. A 20-by-15-foot section of roof joists were ablaze when firefighters arrived.

There were no injuries and no employees were at the company when it was set on fire, city Fire Marshal Michael Ginn said.

But there was additional vandalism. Skylights were smashed and access was gained to the building through breaking a backdoor.

No one has claimed responsibility.

In 2000, a radical group calling itself the Animal Liberation Front claimed responsibility for a $500,000 spree of arson and vandalism at livestock and breeding plants and other businesses in Sonoma County and elsewhere in the Bay Area.

Those attacks, investigated by local authorities and the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, went unsolved.

"We put a lot of work into it," Ginn said. "It didn't go anywhere."

In earlier protests at Rancho Veal, activists opposed to the killingof animals for food chained themselves to the gate or to concrete-filled barrels. A show of civil disobedience at Rancho Veal in 1997 disrupted traffic on heavily used Petaluma Boulevard for eight hours.

So far, no other reports of damage to other facilities in the county or elsewhere have been tied to the Rancho Veal incident.

Investigators are considering other possibilities, such as a disgruntled employee. However, there is no evidence leading to such a conclusion.