House-burning went just as planned, San Diego officials say
San Diego County officials said the burning of a house containing massive amounts of bomb-making material went just as planned Thursday morning, with no large explosions and with much of the fire and smoke gone within an hour.
“Everything is going according to plan,” said Jan Caldwell, spokeswoman for the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department. Flames soared four stories in the air, and thick, dark smoke reached about 2,000 feet before drifting slowly eastward, pushed by a slight sea breeze.
Cracks and pops that could be heard nearby were probably from hand grenades and ammunition inside the one-story home on Via Scott near Escondido. The home was expected to smolder the rest of the day. Bomb experts will inspect the property within a day or two.
“It's highly unlikely there is anything left there that is toxic,” Caldwell said. “We’re going to render this property as safe as possible.”
The goal was for a fast, hot fire to incinerate the bomb-making materials, officials said.
The I-15 Freeway was reopened about 12:30 p.m., after a closure of about 2½ hours. Local air-quality officials were on hand to monitor any potential harmful effects but said there did not appear to be any cause for concern.
"This, so far, is perfect," said Robert Kard, director of Air Pollution Control District of San Diego County.
Evacuees from the neighborhood should be able to return by late in the afternoon or in the evening.
The fire was set at about 10:50 a.m. through a remote controlled detonation device, upon the order of Sheriff Bill Gore with two fire departments standing by.
A series of explosives experts had said that burning the house was the best alternative and that returning into the house to remove the some chemicals, which are the same as those used by terrorist bombers, would be too dangerous. The house was so stuffed with materials and other bric-a-brac that walking amid the explosives was nearly impossible, officials said.
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.
-- Tony Perry in Escondido
Photo: A house once occupied by accused bomb maker George Jakubec goes up in flames during a controlled burn in an Escondido, CA neighborhood. After weeks of planning, the blaze went off as planned, incinerating dangerous chemicals and reducing the structure to ashes. Credit: Don Bartletti/Los Angeles Times