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 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.
Investigators say they are still trying to understand what motivated the renter, Serbia-born George Jakubec, to stockpile the material. Jakubec, 54, has pleaded not guilty to charges of making destructive devices and robbing three banks.
At the height of the fire, Shirley Abernethy, 82, stood on a porch about 200 yards (meters) away.
"Oh my gosh! Look at those flames. They are as high as those trees. That's scary," Abernathy said.
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 J. Kard, director of air pollution control for the county, said workers monitored for the blaze for dangerous pollutants and received no alarming reports.
"It is a good day for a fire," said Caldwell, who described the plume as "very evil looking."The fire will likely smolder for much of the day, said Caldwell. Residents were expected to be allowed to return by Thursday night.
Scores of nearby residents were evacuated earlier. Authorities used helicopters to monitor the burn.
The fire was expected to reach about 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit (982 Celsius) - hot enough to neutralize the unstable explosives inside.
Abernethy said burning down the home was best.
"They have no idea what is in there. There might be explosives in the walls and under things," she said. "Some people have crazy minds. You just never know who you are living next to."
Bomb-squad experts determined the residence was too dangerous to go inside, so they drew up plans to burn it down. The home is 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.
The materials included Pentaerythritol tetranitrate, or PETN, which was used in the 2001 airliner shoe-bombing attempt as well as airplane cargo bombs discovered last month by authorities.
Nearly every room was packed with piles of explosive material and items related to making homemade bombs, prosecutors said.
In the backyard, bomb technicians found six mason jars with highly unstable Hexamethylene triperoxide diamine, or HMDT, which can explode if stepped on. A coffee table was found cluttered with documents and strewn with detonators, prosecutors said.
The chemicals were found after a gardener accidentally set off an explosion at the home by stepping on what authorities believe was a byproduct of HMTD.