Escondido bomb house set on fire; smoke rising [Updated]
After a final thumbs-up from meteorologists and bomb experts, authorities used a remote-controlled device Thursday morning to set fire to a house on the outskirts of Escondido containing massive amounts of bomb-making material.
The fire was set about 10:57 a.m. upon the order of San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore.
Bomb squad specialists from local and outside authorities said a quick, hot fire should destroy the dangerous materials without explosions.
[Updated at 11:15 p.m.: Officials said the fire is going exactly as planned: burning very fast, no big explosions, with a large plume of black smoke rising directly overhead and then drifting east, as expected. They said the fire could burn one to three hours.
"This, so far, is perfect," said Robert Kard, director of Air Pollution Control District of San Diego County.]
To help the fire reach temperatures of 1,800 degrees or more, holes were bored Thursday morning in the roof of the one-story home on Via Scott to provide the fire with the oxygen needed to burn quickly. The normal house fire is about 1,200 degrees, fire officials said.
A 16-foot wall was built between the home and its closest neighbor. A fire-retardant gel was spread Thursday morning on the wall. Vegetation was cut to keep the fire from spreading. Two fire departments are standing by.
A series of explosives experts have said that burning the house is the best alternative and that returning into the house to remove the chemicals, which are the same as those used by terrorist bombers, would be too dangerous. The house is so stuffed with materials and other bric-a-brac that walking amid the explosives was nearly impossible, officials said.
The first sign that the plan was about to be executed was the shutdown of nearby Interstate 15 about 10 a.m. If all goes as planned, the freeway will be reopened in early afternoon, officials said.
Meanwhile, George Jakubec, 54, the tenant who had lived in the home for three years, remains in federal prison in downtown San Diego on bomb-making and bank robbery charges.
He is being held without bail; he has pleaded not guilty. His attorney has said he would like to apologize to neighbors for the disruption caused by the discovery.
Emergency declarations by the county and by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have allowed officials to destroy the house as a threat to public safety. The owner will not be compensated, officials said, and is reportedly in negotiations with his insurance agent.
Neighbors closest to the home were asked to evacuate Wednesday night. Neighbors outside a 250-yard radius were told how to "shelter in place" by shutting windows and doors.
Officials from the local air quality district are monitoring the air in the region to detect any potential harmful effects.
--Tony Perry in San Diego
Photo: Fox 5 San Diego