“Bomb House” Burns - NBC 7 San Diego

“Bomb House” Burns

Firefighters torch a San Diego home filled with explosives



    Using controlled explosive devices; firefighters torched an Escondido home filled with explosives on Thursday. Flames shot 3-4 stories high.

    The house was rented by an out-of-work software consultant, George Jakubec, who authorities say assembled an astonishing quantity of bomb-making materials that included chemicals used by suicide bombers.

    Crews at the scene heard someone shout, “fire in the hole” and sirens just seconds before smoke started to pour from the home on Via Scott. Loud “pops” could be heard coming from the house.

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    An ignition cord stretched into the garage where a combination of black powder and wooden pallets started the blaze, which soon spread room to room in a perfectly orchestrated controlled burn.

    “It was very toxic inside that structure,” said Jan Caldwell, a spokeswoman for the San Diego County Sheriff's Department. “I believe the worst of the situation is over.”

    The home was so laden with explosives that authorities said they had no other choice but to burn it to the ground. Experts from some 50 different agencies were involved in the game plan.

    "We knew there was not going to be a big explosion," said Caldwell.

    The toxic chemicals were expected to burn off during the first 20 minutes of the fire.

    "It is highly unlikely that there is anything left there that is toxic," said Caldwell.

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    Interstate 15 was shut down in both directions but reopened just after noon. Dozens of homeowners were evacuated. They were being allowed to return to their homes at 2 p.m. as long as they showed ID.

    Those that chose not to leave were told to stay indoors with their doors and windows shut.

    The Sheriff's Department says they won't put water on the fire, but will let the fire take its course and within the next few days they'll be walking onto the property to make sure it's safe.

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    Bomb house neighbor Alan Haghighi says he is relieved it appears his house is going to be ok. Haghighi was a little nervous for a time when smoke was coming from his property. The wall from the bomb house fell onto his property but did not hit his house.

    The burn was originally set to occur at 9:30 a.m. local time, but was delayed until almost 11 a.m. to make sure the weather was right. Weather patterns are important because authorities did not want a smoke plume to spread throughout the heavily populated suburban area.

    Authorities expected the layer to dissipate by late morning as the temperature increased. There's no such thing as "safe smoke." But local air pollution authorities say the toxic burn-off won't be any more harmful than a typical fire.

    The fire was expected to last one to four hours and reach about 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit.

    Reverse 911 calls started going out to all residents near the house at about 9.30 a.m., alerting them to the need to close windows and doors until, at a minimum, 3 p.m. At that point, they are to call 211 or check sdcountyemergency.com or tune in to local TV or radio stations to find out when air conditions have cleared sufficiently to go back outdoors.

    It has been a long road for the residents in the area. On Wednesday night the Sheriff's search and rescue team went door to door to about 120 homes with a final evacuation warning for residents on Via Scott.

    Despite meetings, flyers and reverse 911 calls, the late night knocking surprised some neighbors.

    “Perhaps a 24-hour notice wouldn't have hurt? I understand it's for our safety but this is really ridiculous,” said Sylvia Hawkins.

    Hawkins says she was never told until Wednesday night that she had to leave and didn't know where to go.

    "I have no idea, I really don't so it's kind of upsetting," she said.

    Others spent the night at nearby hotels. Most neighbors left sometime Wednesday night.

    The burn took place exactly three weeks after a gardener was injured during an explosion in the yard after he stepped on a volatile powdery explosive.

    A federal judge on Wednesday denied a defense attorney's request to delay destruction of the home that was rented by George Jakubec, who faces a string of federal charges in connection to the case.

    The ruling by U.S. District Judge Larry Burns allows authorities to proceed with Thursday's scheduled controlled burn of the home, which will, it's hoped, put end any threats to the neighborhood.

    "Relieved absolutely, knowing that this person is here with all these explosives, it's scary," said Hawkins.

    Evacuated residents were told they could go to the Red Cross shelter at M. Gordon Clarke Field House/University Student Union on the campus of California State University, San Marcos, at 333 S. Twin Oaks Valley Road.

    As for the burn site itself, officials said that state crews would be on hand to clean up any toxic materials left after the fire.

    Three schools downwind of the fire kept students inside. Authorities also set up a dozen sites in and around the evacuation area to monitor air quality.

    By nightfall, the property where the home once stood continued to smolder.  The area is still not considered safe and won't be until hazmat crews sift through the ashes and clear away all of the debris.

    A "Tech-Cat" will be brought to the site sometime on Friday.  It's similar to a front end loader "Bobcat' but it has armor plating to protect the driver if any explosives are accidentally run over and detonated.