Investigators: Arson possible in Cavel fire
Norther Star  April, 2002

By Nicholas Alajakis and J.D.Piland
Assistant City Editor and Police and Fire Reporter

Saying Sunday’s fire at Cavel International has drawn a lot of attention from investigators would be an understatement.

The plant, located south of I-88 at 108 Harvestore Drive, has long drawn criticism from animal rights groups all over the country for slaughtering horses for consumption by humans in Europe. So when a fire engulfed the building Sunday morning causing over $2 million in damage, the whispers of potential arson began.

After two days of investigation by the DeKalb police and fire departments, federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were called in to investigate Tuesday.

“We showed up at the request of the local fire department because they felt they needed assistance,” said Ray Rowley, ATF agent and special agent in charge of investigation in the Cavel fire.

Rowley, an agent from Boston who worked on-site at the Pentagon following the Sept. 11 attacks, said he couldn’t speculate on the cause of the fire, nor has it been determined to be accidental or intentional.

This fire has drawn a lot of attention, said Mayor Greg Sparrow. Sparrow added he couldn’t recall any situation in which ATF agents had been involved in an investigation in DeKalb.

The attention doesn’t come as much of a surprise to Sparrow, given the controversy the slaughterhouse has drawn since it opened in the mid 1980s.

The plant has drawn even more controversy lately, after the city approved an expansion and renovation plan for the plant to become “state of the art.”

The facility’s existence doesn’t seem to bother anyone in the area, Sparrow said. But extremist groups from all over the nation are trying to make it into a problem, he said.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Cavel is one of four horse-slaughtering plants in the country -- all of which receive plenty of negative attention on the Internet and in other forms of media by animal rights groups. Some of these groups, such as the Animal Liberation Front, even condone violent protests.

According to a 1997 article in the Christian Science Monitor, the ALF claimed responsibility for a fire at a Cavel-owned horse slaughtering plant in Redmond, Ore. The Oregon plant was the only other such facility owned by Cavel. In that fire, 35 gallons of jellied gasoline and electric detonators were used to cause more than $1 million in damage, the Monitor reported.

Randy Davis, fire marshall at the Redmond Fire and Rescue Department, said there are similarities between the case in Redmond and the one in DeKalb, but he did not know whether they were related. Davis said the main building at the Cavel plant in Redmond was damaged and the fire caused between $1.5 million and $2 million in damage. Also, the fire in Redmond occurred at 4 a.m. July 21, 1997. The Cavel plant in Redmond never was rebuilt.

While the ALF claimed responsibility for the fire in Redmond, the case, which has been investigated by the ATF and the FBI, remains open because no one has been apprehended for the arson, Davis said.

Captain William Kalal of the DeKalb Fire Department contacted Davis after the fire at Cavel. Because of similar circumstances and previous experience in a case like this, Davis said he told Kalal if there were any suspicions about the fire to call the ATF, who, along with the FBI and other state and local officials, assisted in the investigation.

Davis added that Redmond is a big horse breeding community and nearby Eugene, Ore., and has become “a hotbed of environmental activism.”

There is no word on whether these cases are related, and Rowley declined to speculate.

“It’s still too early,” Rowley said.

Along with the DeKalb police and fire departments, Rowley expects an investigation to continue until the issue is resolved, saying all necessary measures are being taken and all steps are being followed.

“We’re working side-to-side, shoulder-to-shoulder with these guys,” Rowley said. “It’s really become a team effort.”

The Cavel plant has been in DeKalb since the mid ‘80s. Before that a cattle slaughtering plant occupied the building for six years.

Sparrow said he’s received very little guff form the community about the plant, and he personally doesn’t mind its existence.

“Growing up, my family was in the cattle business ... We would take cattle from farmers and fatten them up for the plants,” Sparrow said. “I don’t relish the idea of eating horse meat, but some people in Europe do.”

Sparrow added in case the fire was started by a radical organization, it’s an unfortunate situation.

“It’s sad people can do these things because they don’t like an organization that’s perfectly legal.”

The following targets were hit by animal liberation activists in 2001:

10 fur stores
8 Stephens Inc. targets
7 Bank of New York offices or facilities
5 research labs
2 Bank of America offices or facilities
4 animal breeders
4 meat stores
3 fur farms
3 McDonalds
3 Dairy Queen
3 Burger King
3 factory farms
2 HLS targets
2 Pizza Hut
1 Wendy's
1 hunting store
1 pet store
1 wild horse facility
1 circus animal train

Damaged property:

approx. 150 windows or glass doors
approx. 11 vehicles and 1 yacht
4 fires were set

Animals rescued or released:

3000 mink
1047 ducks and ducklings
469 chickens
200 horses
62 pigeons
50 geese
44 beagles
28 rabbits
12 perch
10 ferrets
2 hermit crabs
1 snail