Cleanup set to start at site of torched `Bomb Factory’ house

ESCONDIDO (CNS) – Explosives experts searched today for any remaining hazardous substances lurking in the smoldering ashes of a North County home leveled in a controlled fire to destroy a large cache of bomb-making materials discovered inside it.

The inspection was intended to clear the grounds of the Escondido-area house — incinerated Thursday in an unusual, carefully choreographed demolition — for full-scale cleanup operations at the site next week.

In keeping with the earlier aspects of the operation, the effort was undertaken in an abundance of caution. Following the midday blaze that consumed the single-story residence in the 1900 block of Via Scott, a sheriff's spokeswoman told reporters it was “highly unlikely” that toxic substances survived the inferno.

Any contaminants that could pose public health risks will be cleared away by county hazardous-materials personnel before Monday, when officials with the state Department of Toxic Substances will arrive to oversee the removal of the charred debris.

George Djura Jakubec, 54, who lived with his wife in the rented house just west of Interstate 15 for about four years, pleaded not guilty Monday to eight federal criminal counts stemming from the discovery of the explosives.

The Serbian native, who is being held without bail, stands 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 hoard of hazardous compounds — including substances favored by 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.

The prosecutor described the defendant's home as a “bomb factory.” After weighing the risks posed by the highly volatile chemicals, sheriff's officials decided that burning down the house was the only reasonably safe way to dispose of the stockpile.

After deputies closed roads in the neighborhood and evacuated dozens of surrounding residences, a bomb squad remotely ignited the condemned home via a series of charges placed throughout it. Heavy smoke soon was pouring out of the roof of the dwelling, followed by flames several stories high.

A few minutes later, the entire house was ablaze, along with a few nearby patches of shrubbery, as loud popping noises and occasional blasts echoed through the largely vacated neighborhood north of State Route 78.

Within an hour, all that remained of the home was a blackened pile of embers covered by gently flickering flames.

San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore praised the fiery demolition as a complete success.

Dozens of air-quality sensors set up through the neighborhood detected brief spikes in pollution, followed by safe conditions, he said.

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.

The evacuated residents were able to return to their homes in the mid- afternoon, and 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.

Jakubec's alleged weapons and bomb-making crimes 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.

Investigators subsequently found at least nine pounds of unstable explosive compounds in Jakubec's heavily cluttered house, officials said. The discovery of the stockpile of explosives prompted Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to declare the San Diego region a disaster area.

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 cleanup of the burn site is expected to take five days, sheriff's spokeswoman Melissa Aquino said.

This afternoon, evacuation orders remained in effect for two homes on Via Scott, possibly until Dec. 18.

Residents of one other home that remained off-limits were to be allowed to return to their North Nutmeg Street dwelling once the sheriff's Bomb/Arson Unit completed its work at the burn site, according to Aquino.

Nearby Via Alexandra, meanwhile, remained open to residents only so it would be clear for equipment involved in the post-burn operations.

Categories: KUSI