Animal rights activists said they pumped fuel into an Idaho fur and fireworks retailer before setting the place ablaze early Monday, and federal agents said they were taking the claim seriously.
Jerry Vlasak, a spokesman for the North American Animal Liberation Press Office in Los Angeles, said he received a message from activists shortly after the fire began at the Rocky Mountain Fireworks & Fur Co., on Monday morning.
"A hole was drilled into their storage space, and several gallons of fuel were pumped through, as well as multiple other charges being set beneath an adjoining structure," Vlasak said, citing the message. "Ignition devices were set to finish up our work, once we were safely on our way."
In addition to fireworks, the business in Caldwell, outside Boise, buys coyote and bobcat pelts and sells trapping supplies, including equipment that helps drown beavers. It also sells knives, predator calls and scents to help lure bobcats.
The fire was reported at about 5 a.m. Idaho Highway 30 and a U.S. Interstate 84 exit were closed down. There were no injuries.
The activists said they belonged to a group called "The Arson Unit" and could have ties to the Animal Liberation Front, Vlasak said. They warned that the store must close its doors permanently.
"Stay in business, and we'll be back," their message said.
Radical activist groups including the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front have been blamed for a string of 17 arsons across the West dating back more than a decade, including at ski resorts in Colorado and university laboratories in Washington state. Fourteen people have been convicted of crimes related to those fires. Such groups have been classified as domestic terror threats by the FBI.
A Utah animal rights activist in July pleaded guilty to two federal charges stemming from a pair of 2010 arson fires in the Salt Lake City area, one at the Tandy Leather Factory and another at a restaurant that served a disputed goose liver dish.
Federal agents on Monday weren't dismissing the activist group's claims of responsibility, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives spokeswoman Donna Sellers said. Evidence has been collected from the blaze to be analyzed at one of the agency's laboratories, she said.
"ATF does take the communique seriously," she said. "The claim of responsibility by Animal Liberationists is a lead in this investigation."
The FBI also said it's helping track down leads.
"We are assisting the ATF to see if there's a connection to domestic terrorism," said Deborah Bertram, an FBI spokeswoman in Salt Lake City.
Vlasak, whose office helps to publicize the illegal activities of activists, said he had no direct knowledge that the activists actually set the Idaho fire. But he said similar statements in past attacks on fur farms or businesses have had merit. He declined to say exactly how he received Monday's message.
"Somebody with a shop full of fireworks and fur at the same time is just kind of asking for it," Vlasak told the AP on Monday, adding that while he supports such actions, "there's a firewall between those who are actually willing to break the law to help animals, and those of us who are just serving as a press office."
The fire was contained quickly and without significant damage to fireworks or fur articles. Investigators believe the fire was "suspicious and incendiary," Caldwell fire marshal Andrew Cater said.