There were so many explosive chemicals littering a California house that bomb technicians have set the alleged "bomb factory" of George Jakubec ablaze rather than try to remove the material.
Jakubec, an unemployed software engineer, faces federal charges of bank robbery and bombmaking after the discovery late last month of what may be the largest cache of homemade explosives ever assembled in the U.S.
On Thursday, authorities closed Interstate 15 and evacuated a neighborhood before setting Jakubec's rented Escondido house on fire just after 11 a.m. local time. To protect nearby houses from the flames, firefighters had surrounded the home with a 16-foot-tall dry-wall fence and then smeared the barrier with fire gel before igniting the fire by remote control. The fire was expected to last four hours.
Jakubec's lawyer had asked a judge to stop the demolition of the house so the defendant could retrieve "papers, journals and other items in the house that may help [him] prove his intent or his mental state." A judge ruled that the destruction could move forward, however, after an FBI bomb technician testified that Jakubec's backyard was a "minefield" and that a bomb tech walking in the yard had stepped on something that made a loud pop and burned the bottom of his shoe.
The explosives cache was discovered Nov. 18 when another man literally stumbled over it, though with more serious consequences. Gardener Mario Garcia stepped on something in Jakubec's yard and triggered an explosion that injured his eye, arm and chest.
When federal and local officials came to investigate, they found eight pounds of the homemade explosive HMTD buried in the yard, and more HMTD inside the one-story wooden home north of San Diego. They also say they found nine detonators and 13 unfilled homemade grenades with attached shrapnel.
San Diego County Deputy D.A. Terri Perez called the discovery a "bomb factory" and said it was "the largest quantity of these types of homemade explosives at one place in the United States."
"He had the makings of a bomb lab," said Perez. "He had precursors to making these explosives. He had detonators, he had grenades and so essentially he could make these destructive devices, and had completed several of them."
Federal authorities said the HMTD discovered had the explosive power of several of the devices used in the London subway bombing of 2005, which killed 52 people. Explosives experts found the HMTD in jars, and buried them in the ground to detonate them, closing the southbound lanes of Interstate 15 for about three hours for motorists' safety.
Authorities also allege they found PETN, the powder explosive used in the recent cargo bombing plot, by the failed "shoe bomber" in 2001 and allegedly by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in the unsuccessful attempt to bring down Northwest flight 253 with an underwear bomb last Christmas.
Authorities also say they discovered dye packs and wigs on the property. According to Deputy D.A. Perez, Jakubec robbed banks in San Diego County on June 25 and July 17, and got away with a "substantial amount" of money.
Jakubec's wife Marina, from whom he had recently separated, told the San Diego Union-Tribune that her Serbian-born husband had lost his job three years ago and she believes he had become unbalanced. "I am afraid for my husband's mental state," she said. "He's not well."
She told the paper that Jakubec had allegedly purchased chemicals and electronics with money she had earned, but she did not know what it was for.
According to court records, Jakubec was on probation after pleading guilty to shoplifting at an electronics store last year.
Jakubec pled not guilty to 26 state charges, but the state dropped its charges when the U.S. Attorney launched a federal prosecution. Jakubec now faces three bank robbery and one attempted bank robbery charges, as well as charges of possession and manufacturing explosives. He allegedly stole $54,000 in the robberies. He pled not guilty to the eight federal charges on Monday.