Thursday, December 2, 2010
Workers began building a protective barrier today alongside a condemned North County home to be burned to the ground to dispose of large amounts of illegal explosive chemicals and other bomb-making paraphernalia found inside it two weeks ago.
The house in the 1900 block of Via Scott in unincorporated Escondido will be set ablaze under tightly controlled conditions sometime next week, likely Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, officials said.
"There is no (other) viable method to render the property safe," Sheriff Bill Gore told residents Tuesday night during a community meeting to brief the public on the unusual plan. "It is ... not habitable. The most effective way is to destroy the residence by fire."
The stockpile of volatile incendiary materials was uncovered after a 49-year-old landscaper was seriously injured in an explosion while working outside the house.
Early on the afternoon of Nov. 18, Mario Garcia of Fallbrook stepped on something akin to a land mine in the yard, causing a small blast. He was hospitalized for severe burns, cuts and bruises to his arm, body and face.
The resident of the home, 54-year-old George Djura Jakubec, was arrested later that day on suspicion of unlawfully manufacturing and possessing explosives. It remains unclear why Jakubec, who also is accused of committing several recent bank robberies, allegedly created what a prosecutor described as a "bomb factory."
The cache of at least nine pounds of compounds often used by terrorists -- including hexamethylene triperoxide diamine, or HMTD -- was "the largest quantity of these types of homemade explosives (ever found) at one place in the United States," Deputy District Attorney Terri Perez told a judge during Jakubec's arraignment.
Jakubec is being held on $5.1 million bail.
To prepare for the destruction of the suspect's former rental home, crews this morning began erecting a 16-foot-high metal-framed wall alongside it to the north. The barrier, to be covered with fire-resistant dry wall and flame- retardant gel, will protect a next-door neighbor's home, sheriff's spokeswoman Melissa Aquino said.
Workers also removed shrubs, trees and wooden fences that could catch fire during the burn, which will take place when climatic conditions -- notably wind patterns -- are as favorable as possible for this time of year.
Earlier this week, the county Air Pollution Control District installed a portable weather station on the roof of nearby Escondido Fire Department Fire Station 3 to get real-time weather patterns and "minimize surprises" on the day of the burn, Aquino said.
Hazardous-materials experts, meanwhile, have been strategizing on air monitoring to take place during the prescribed blaze and planning for the subsequent clean-up task.
Additionally, sheriff's officials are meeting with Escondido police and firefighting personnel to plan the evacuation of dozens of homes and traffic-control measures that will be necessary on the day of the controlled fire, Aquino said.
A stretch of nearby Interstate 15 also will be closed during the operation due to its proximity to the contaminated house.
On Wednesday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared the San Diego region a disaster area due to the highly dangerous situation in the North County neighborhood.
The governor's decree, granted at the request of the county Board of Supervisors, empowers the California Emergency Management Agency to coordinate the efforts of all involved state agencies and provide assistance to local government bodies.
The disaster designation also allows for the waiver of certain regulations that otherwise could delay the controlled burn