By Emmett Berg
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Animal rights activists have claimed responsibility for a suspected arson fire that damaged 14 tractor-trailer rigs parked at a major feedlot in central California.
No people or animals were reported hurt during the blaze, which erupted before dawn on Sunday at the Harris Ranch feedlot, located in Coalinga, California and ranked by the owners as the largest on the West Coast.
A spokesman for Harris Farms company said the cause of the fire remained under investigation.
But the North American Animal Liberation Press Office, which says it conveys messages on behalf of anonymous animal rights activists, distributed a statement saying the 14 trucks were set ablaze deliberately to protest "the horrors and injustices of factory farming."
The statement said containers of accelerant and kerosene-soaked rope were placed beneath the trucks and ignited by remote control using digital timers.
"We weren't sure how well this was going to work, so we waited until there was news reports before writing this," the statement said. "We were extremely pleased to see that all 14 trucks 'were a total loss' with some being 'completely melted to the ground.'"
A spokeswoman for the Animal Liberation Press Office said the trucks are used to haul cattle to slaughter from the feedlot.
Mike Casey, a Harris Farms vice president, said he could not corroborate the details specified in the activists' communication or be certain they were responsible.
"All it is is a claim, and we don't have anything to back that up one way or another," Casey told Reuters, "Everything is on the table."
Harris Farms' feedlot is the 14th largest in the United States with a capacity to handle 100,000 head of cattle, according to a company website.
The Harris Ranch Beef Company ranks itself as California's largest fed-cattle processor, producing nearly 200 million pounds of beef a year.
The Fresno County Sheriff's Department, which was leading the investigation, was not immediately available for comment.
The Animal Liberation Press Office also was the distributor of a statement for activists who claimed responsibility for a fire in September that caused $100,000 in damage to a retailer of fur coats and fireworks in Boise, Idaho.
(Editing by Steve Gorman and Dan Whitcomb)