Key Points:

A militant animal rights network is celebrating the fire that destroyed Tegel's poultry processing plant in Christchurch, and says it would like to see similar plants face the same fate.

The Fire Service says the comments by the secretive Animal Liberation Front (ALF) are dangerous and could have deadly consequences.

While "overjoyed", the ALF said it had nothing to do with Thursday's early morning blaze at the factory in Hornby - one of three major plants operated by the country's largest poultry producer.

The cause of the fire is still to be determined. It was the largest blaze in Christchurch in more than a year, requiring all of the city's firefighting resources.

"While we do not wish any harm to animals or humans, we would like to see the same destruction at Tegel's two North Island plants," an ALF spokesman using the name Daryll Cartwright said in a statement to the Herald.

"We are delighted that no more chickens will meet their deaths at the Hornby plant in the immediate future.

"Tegel's growing and production methods are incredibly cruel. The ALF hope that the economic damage to Tegel is substantial and that the public will think about the conditions and treatment of the 44 million chickens Tegel slaughter every year."

Fire safety officer Joe Hefford, who is investigating the fire, said such "irrational and emotive behaviour could have disastrous consequences for people who get caught in a fire".

But the ALF comments were supported yesterday by "above ground" group Auckland Animal Action.

"I think they said it quite well," said spokeswoman Karen Mitchell.

Earlier this year, ALF claimed to have broken into a Tegel factory broiler farm in South Auckland, and dead chickens were delivered to the home of Tegel director Ronald Vela.

Tegel did not respond to the ALF comments yesterday.

Mr Hefford said the starting point of the Christchurch fire had been narrowed down. There was nothing suspicious, but the possibility of a deliberately lit fire could not yet be ruled out.

Meanwhile, about 100 factory staff in limbo after the fire will keep their jobs as Tegel reorganises its Christchurch workforce.

Union organiser John Kaye said the workers had been fully paid up and all would be redeployed on the Christchurch site or to other city factories.

"Tegel has asked the employees to be flexible through this situation with regards to shift work. If they are prepared to be flexible, they are guaranteed work and nobody will be laid off and nobody will lose money."

Petrol vouchers had been supplied to help workers who had to travel further afield to work.

"They have bent over backwards to make sure the employees are looked after," Mr Kaye said.

The company had also indicated its intention to rebuild on the site of the fire.


* According to its global website, members of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) act directly to stop animals suffering, at the risk of losing their own freedom.

* Direct action refers to illegal actions performed to bring about animal liberation. These usually entail either rescuing animals from laboratories or other places of "abuse", or inflicting economic damage on animal abusers.

* Due to the illegal nature of ALF activities, activists work anonymously, and there is no formal organisation.