Suspected arson at BLM horse corral closes U.S. highway
RENO, Nev. (AP) – Federal agents are investigating a suspected firebombing Monday that burned a hay barn at a government holding pen for wild horses and burros – the scene of past violence near the California-Nevada border.
Authorities discovered as many as four unexploded incendiary devices near the pre-dawn fire at the Bureau of Land Management’s Litchfield Wild Horse and Burro Corrals along U.S. Highway 395, about 21 miles northeast of Susanville, Calif.
No one was injured, but the potential for explosions closed a 40-mile stretch of the highway for several hours.
A military ordnance team from Moffet Air Station in San Francisco was en route. Agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were on the scene, BLM spokesman Jeff Fontana said. FBI agents will lead the investigation, he said.
All 700 animals were safe and none had escaped, even though fences were cut at the corral, Fontana said.
No one has claimed responsibility, Fontana said.
”We’ve gotten no threatening mail from animal rights’ groups or anything like that, but the facility has had vandalism in the past,” he said.
An unsolved arson destroyed an office in 1991, Fontana said. Several years before that, fences were cut and several animals turned loose. Animal rights activists took responsibility for that incident, he said.
Also, in 1989, there was ”a really bizarre incident in which some people got in the corral, took our mascot burro named Warren and killed him, cut his head off and took the head,” Fontana said. ”They also shot and wounded two saddle horses and despite a $10,000 reward, that was never solved.”
Monday’s fire was reported at about 4:30 a.m. It was burning a barn filled with about 250 tons of hay, together valued at about $85,000. Seven fire engines were on the scene.
”It’s still smoldering. It could smolder for days,” Fontana said, though the horses and burros weren’t in danger.
”The hay barn is far enough away that they weren’t even really threatened,” said Don Holmstrom, assistant field manager for the BLM’s Eagle Lake Field Office in Susanville.
Firefighters had to retreat and let the fire burn after they discovered the fire bombs, Fontana said. One of the devices apparently started the fire. The others were found around the property.
”We don’t know what we are dealing with. We don’t know whether it is some sort of explosive or what it might be,” Fontana said.
The site near Susanville is one of 11 federal wild horse and burro holding facilities in the nation.
Approximately 40,000 wild horses roam the West, about half of them in Nevada.
Their management is often controversial. Some animal rights’ groups oppose the government roundups. Some ranchers oppose the presence of the horses on the range because they compete with livestock for forage.
”There have been arsons at different times at different corrals,” the most recent two years ago at Burns, Ore., said Maxine Shane, a BLM spokesman in Reno. ”Whether this is related to anything else, I couldn’t tell you.”
On the Net:
BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program: http://www.wildhorseandburro.blm.gov/
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