Federal officials are investigating three fires that have been set at Southern California abortion clinics in the past week, including a Wednesday morning blaze at a San Luis Obispo clinic.
Fires at a Ventura clinic on Feb. 9 and a Santa Barbara clinic on Saturday were set using a tire filled with a flammable liquid. That method wasn’t used in San Luis Obispo, but investigators said the fire was arson, said John D’Angelo, a spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in Los Angeles.
“We’re treating it as an arson,” D’Angelo said. “We’ve ruled out that it was caused by an accident or natural event. The fire was set. At this point, we don’t have any definitive connection between the fires.”
A task force from the FBI, ATF and U.S. Marshall’s Office is investigating the Ventura and San Luis Obispo fires and is aiding Santa Barbara fire officials in their investigation, D’Angelo said.
The federal task force was set to help protect abortion clinics and doctors after Congress passed the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances act in response to a recent spate of deadly violence at clinics.
The series of fires has heightened fears among Southern California clinic workers, already worried about the increasing number of violent acts against clinics and doctors in other parts of the country.
“It’s very frightening,” said Sue Ellen Wood, executive director of Planned Parenthood in Los Angeles.
The fires come at a time when antiabortion activists say they are preparing to step up their campaign against abortion clinics with protest marches outside the homes of clinic doctors.
Organizers said they do not feel preparations for their campaign triggered the arsons.
“The more peaceful protests you have, the less likely it is that someone is going to get frustrated and resort to violence,” said Jeff White, state director of Operation Rescue, which is planning the “Nowhere to Hide” campaign at doctors’ homes.
Leaders of several local antiabortion groups, concerned about the recent murders of clinic workers in Brookline, Mass. and Pensacola, Fla., met last month in Los Angeles to discuss ways to keep the violence out of Southern California.
“This is just so frustrating,” said Susan Carpenter-McMillan, director of the Pro-family Media Coalition, who helped organize the meeting.
“I don’t want it coming here,” she said.
The fire at a Planned Parenthood Clinic in San Luis Obispo started at 1:50 a.m. and took about an hour to put out, D’Angelo said. Damages were estimated at about $50,000.
A fire Feb. 9 at the Family Planning Clinic in Ventura on Thompson Boulevard caused minor damages. No one was in the building at the time of the 5:25 a.m. blaze.
A fire set Feb. 11 outside the front door of a Santa Barbara medical laboratory was probably a case of mistaken identity, said Pete Ramsdell, a fire department spokesman.
He said the fire at Physicians Medical Laboratory probably was meant for the Santa Barbara Women’s Medical Group, an abortion clinic in the same building.
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