ESCONDIDO, Calif. —A fire intentionally set Thursday to destroy an explosives-filled house in a suburban San Diego neighborhood rapidly consumed the structure without major problems as fire crews and curious onlookers watched.
Authorities said the home was so packed with homemade explosives that they had no choice but to burn it to the ground.
Remotely controlled explosive devices ignited the home in Escondido and it quickly became engulfed in flames as thick smoke rose high into the sky, going just as authorities had planned to avoid spreading toxic fumes through the community.
The fire began with puffs of smoke that rapidly grew larger and shot through the roof before spectacular orange flames overtook the house. Popping noises heard during the fire were likely hand grenades and ammunition, officials said.
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The flames quickly ate away at the attached garage and then large chunks of the house. Within minutes the flaming framework was exposed and nearby shrubs were burning. A fire sprinkler was activated remotely.
Nearly all of the home was destroyed in about 30 minutes after a delay of nearly an hour as fire officials waited for an atmospheric condition known as an inversion layer to clear. The condition could have held the toxic smoke close to the ground.
"This has gone according to plan," said Jan Caldwell, a spokeswoman for the San Diego County Sheriff's Department. "They wanted to wait for that perfect moment."
Robert Kard, director of air pollution control for the county, said workers monitored for the blaze for dangerous pollutants and received no alarming reports.
The plume drifted toward the southeast as planned, over partially closed I-15 and toward sparsely populated fields. The eight-lane freeway was reopened within hours, and San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said there would likely be more toxins in the air from the returning traffic than the fire emitted.
Meteorologists had been consulted to determine the most favorable conditions for the fire.
Authorities used helicopters to monitor the burn.
Residents watched from outside the evacuation zone.
Crews had built a 16-foot firewall and covered it with fire-resistant gel to protect the closest homes.
The house was rented by an out-of-work software consultant who authorities say assembled an astonishing quantity of bomb-making materials that included the kind of chemicals used by suicide bombers.
Earlier Thursday, police opened windows and doors at the home, and drilled holes in the roof.
Residents, onlookers and news crews were kept at least 400 yards from the home.
The fire was expected to reach about 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit — hot enough to neutralize the unstable explosives inside.
Investigators say they are still trying to understand what motivated the renter, George Jakubec, to stockpile the material. Jakubec, 54, has pleaded not guilty to charges of making destructive devices and robbing three banks.
Bomb-squad experts determined the residence was too dangerous to go inside, so they drew up plans to burn it down. The house was so cluttered with unstable chemicals that even bomb-disposing robots couldn't be used to enter it.
Officers said they found the same types of chemicals used by suicide bombers and insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Nearly every room was packed with piles of explosive material and items related to making homemade bombs, prosecutors said.
Authorities plan to assess the property and then bring in hazardous material crews to remove two to six inches of top soil from the half-acre lot to ensure no dangerous residue was left behind.