Wednesday, June 28, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Fed agency probes Bainbridge Island fire

Seattle Times staff reporter

Federal agents are sifting through the charred debris of a $2.9 million Bainbridge Island house destroyed in a weekend fire, trying to determine if the blaze was arson and possibly the work of environmental extremists.

The fire at the house, which was nearly complete and for sale, was discovered Saturday night. By the time units from the Bainbridge Island Fire Department arrived it was too late to save the 5,700-square-foot home.

The tile roof collapsed onto the structure, making investigation more difficult, said Bainbridge Island Fire Chief Glen Tyrrell, who asked for help from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

ATF agents arrived Monday, and along with Bainbridge Island inspectors and an accelerant-sniffing dog, are expected to continue combing through the rubble for several more days or until they can determine how the fire started.

Over the past few years fires at several homes under construction in Snohomish, King and Island counties have been blamed on environmental extremist groups such as the Earth Liberation Front.

In January, a luxury home under construction on Camano Island burned and a pink-died sheet with a spray-painted message — which investigators would not reveal — was left at the front gate of the property.

Agents suspect arson and are still investigating that fire — which destroyed the $3 million, 9,600-square-foot house. Shortly after the fire, investigators said they thought it was the work of environmental extremists.

There was no similar message or other writing at the Bainbridge site, which does not appear to be linked to the Camano Island fire or necessarily to environmental extremists, Tyrrell said.

Ruling out environmental extremists and finding out how the fire started will be the focus of ATF's investigation

It's "like peeling an onion," said ATF special agent Julianne Marshall. "It's very systematic."

Whenever there is a fire in a house with no occupants, "that raises an eyebrow," Marshall said. "We do try to go in without preconceived notions."

The 2.5-acre property, which has a view of the Olympic Mountains and Port Orchard Passage, is near an area that once was considered wetlands, Tyrrell said. Clear-cutting the area was discussed in "Obituary for a Wetland," an article on the Bainbridge Buzz blog — a site for community news from parking issues to book groups. The authors of several online blogs — including one with a pro-environmental stance — discussed the fire in relation to the wetlands

Tyrrell said investigators are aware of the controversy but said that at this point it doesn't appear to be a factor in the cause of the blaze.

Nancy Bartley: 206-464-8522 or

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company


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