ESCONDIDO (CNS) - Crews Friday were expected to sift through the charred rubble of a North County home where bombs allegedly were made, to retrieve pieces to test for remaining explosive chemicals and other hazardous substances.
In a spectacular controlled burn set late Thursday morning, authorities from local, state and federal agencies demolished the home in the 1900 block of Via Scott in unincorporated Escondido. San Diego County sheriff's spokeswoman Jan Caldwell told reporters it was "highly unlikely that there's any (remaining) toxicity."
Authorities said burning the home was the only reasonably safe way to dispose of the volatile chemicals.
A bomb squad remotely ignited the home just before 11 a.m. Heavy smoke soon was pouring out of the roof of the dwelling, followed by intense flames several stories high.
A few minutes later, the entire house was furiously burning, along with a few nearby patches of shrubbery, and loud popping noises and occasional blasts reverberated through the largely vacated neighborhood just west of Interstate 15 and north of State Route 78.
Within 45 minutes, the inferno had dwindled to campfire-sized flames licking a scorched pile of rubble as emergency personnel and area residents breathed long-awaited sighs of relief.
San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore praised the unusual and complex demolition as an unqualified success.
"I don't think this could have gone any better," Gore told reporters.
Dozens of air-quality sensors set up through the neighborhood detected brief spikes in pollution, followed by safe conditions, officials said.
The various pops and bangs that rang out during the blaze were apparently the sounds of detonating ammunition and hand grenades that were among the illegal stockpile of weapons and bomb-making materials discovered in and around the home three weeks ago, Caldwell said.
George Djura Jakubec, 54, who lived in the house with his wife for about four years, pleaded not guilty Monday to eight federal criminal counts and was ordered held without bail.
The Serbian native is accused of manufacturing and possessing destructive devices, as well as robbing three banks and trying to rob a fourth over the past two years. Authorities have disclosed no motive for the defendant's alleged bomb-making activities.
The controlled burn resulted in temperatures of 1,500 to 1,800 degrees inside the condemned house, enough heat enough to neutralize all the dangerous chemicals stashed and strewn throughout, said San Marcos Fire Chief Todd Newman, one of the supervisors of the operation.
County Public Health Officer Wilma Wooten said it was unlikely that anyone would suffer any significant ill effects from toxins released by the controlled burn.
Residents of about six dozen surrounding evacuated addresses were able to return to their homes in the mid-afternoon. Interstate 15, which was closed between SR-78 and Centre City Parkway about an hour prior to the fire, was fully reopened shortly after noon.
Thorough cleanup efforts at the site are expected to begin next week.
The hoard of hazardous compounds, including substances often used by suicide bombers and other terrorists, 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 initial court appearance in the case.
Perez told a judge the defendant had turned his home into a "bomb factory."
Jakubec's alleged activities came to light Nov. 18, when a landscaper, 49-year-old Mario Garcia of Fallbrook, stepped on and detonated some type of explosive in Jakubec's back yard, suffering serious injuries.
The defendant allegedly admitted to robbing three banks as well as keeping explosives and other weapons at his home.
Investigators found at least nine pounds of unstable explosive compounds in the unkempt house, which was littered throughout with piles of boxes, books, tools, plastic bottles, electronic components and other clutter. Much of the illicit chemical cache was in glass jars, and some apparently had spilled on the floor, officials said.
At a hearing on Wednesday, FBI special agent and bomb technician James Verdi testified that explosives were found in the home in "amounts we've never seen before" - either domestically or internationally.
A coffee table was covered with improvised detonators and chemical compounds so sensitive that even papers on it couldn't be moved, Verdi told a judge.
Federal prosecutor Rees Morgan said there was evidence of other past unintended explosions at the residence, such as blown-out windows and walls and ceilings bowed outward and upward.
The owner of the rental property reportedly will not be reimbursed by the government, although it was unclear if the loss of the house might be covered by insurance.
The discovery of the stockpile of explosives prompted Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to declare the San Diego region a disaster area. On Tuesday, the county Board of Supervisors ratified a local emergency declaration that allowed authorities to torch the home.
In addition to evacuations and road closures, preparations for the burn included erecting a 16-foot-high metal-framed barrier, removing vegetation and fences that could have caught fire, and installing a portable weather station on the roof of nearby Escondido Fire Department Fire Station 3 to get real-time readings.
The intricately planned operation may well wind up serving as a teaching tool for dealing with similarly acute hazardous-materials problems in the future, the sheriff said.
"If an incident like this ever happens again in the United States, this is the example they'll look to," Gore told reporters during an afternoon briefing. "This is the textbook for how to do it. Something on this scale hasn't been done before."