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Preparations Underway To Burn Down Escondido Bomb House

Weather permitting, a North County rental home where a man allegedly built makeshift bombs and stored large amounts of explosive materials will be burned to the ground Thursday in an elaborate operation deemed the safest possible way to dispose of the highly volatile chemicals.

Authorities believe the controlled burn in the 1900 block of Via Scott in unincorporated Escondido will incinerate the unstable compounds found throughout the house without causing any detonations.

Still, residents of dozens of nearby homes have been directed to evacuate Wednesday evening as a safety and health precaution. Others who live somewhat farther from the contaminated home have been told to "shelter in place" during the blaze, which is expected to begin about 9 a.m., according to sheriff's officials.

George Djura Jakubec, 54, who lived in the now-condemned house with his wife, pleaded not guilty Monday to eight federal charges in the case and was ordered held without bail.

The Serbian native is charged with making and possessing destructive devices, as well as robbing three banks and trying to rob a fourth over the past two years. A federal indictment handed up last week alleges that Jakubec made destructive devices, including nine detonators and 13 grenade hulls, along with unknown quantities of high explosives.

Authorities have disclosed no suspected motive for the defendant's alleged bomb-making activities.

The purported crimes came to light Nov. 18, when a landscaper, 49-year-old Mario Garcia of Fallbrook, stepped on and detonated something akin to a mine in Jakubec's backyard, suffering serious injuries.

The hoard of hazardous compounds -- including substances used by suicide bombers and the so-called underwear and shoe bombers -- was "the largest quantity of these types of homemade explosives (ever found) at one place in the United States," Deputy District Attorney Terri Perez said at Jakubec's Nov. 22 arraignment in state court.

Perez told a judge the defendant had turned his home into a "bomb factory."

According to court records, Jakubec admitted to authorities that he had robbed three banks and kept explosives and other weapons at his home.

Investigators found at least nine pounds of highly volatile explosive compounds in the house, which is strewn throughout with piles of boxes, books, tools, plastic bottles, electronic components and other clutter. Much of the chemical cache was in glass jars, and some appeared to have been spilled on the floor of the home, officials said.

Bomb experts eventually decided that a controlled fire was the only reasonable way to dispose of the bomb-making materials, the discovery of which prompted Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to declare the San Diego region a disaster area.

This morning, the county Board of Supervisors ratified a local emergency declaration that will allow authorities to torch the home. The panel approved the measure without discussion.

To prepare for the burn, crews erected a 16-foot-high metal-framed wall covered with fire-resistant dry wall alongside it to the north. The barrier, which also will be coated with flame-retardant gel, will protect the nearest neighbor's home, sheriff's spokeswoman Melissa Aquino said.

Workers also removed shrubs, trees and wooden fences that could catch fire during the blaze.

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 readings 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 fire and planning for the subsequent cleanup task. The state Department of Toxic Substances Control has agreed to fund removal of all the debris from the site except for the house's concrete slab.

Sheriff's officials also have been 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 as a precaution.

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