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Officials burn house down

Neighbors look on as a house erupts in flames on Thursday during the controlled burn of a home in Escondido, Calif., that was so packed with homemade explosives that authorities claim they had no choice but to burn it to the ground.

Neighbors look on as a house erupts in flames on Thursday during the controlled burn of a home in Escondido, Calif., that was so packed with homemade explosives that authorities claim they had no choice but to burn it to the ground. Photo by The Associated Press.

ESCONDIDO, Calif. (AP) — 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.

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Neighbors look on as a house erupts in flames on Thursday during the controlled burn of a home in Escondido, Calif., that was so packed with homemade explosives that authorities claim they had no choice but to burn it to the ground.

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.

At the height of the fire, Shirley Abernethy, 82, stood on a neighbor’s porch about a block away from the fire. Scores of others living closer to the home were evacuated the previous night.

“Oh my gosh! Look at those flames. They are as high as those trees. That’s scary,” Abernethy said.

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 remote controlled fire sprinkler was activated.

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 the blaze for dangerous pollutants and received no alarming reports.

The plume drifted toward the southeast as planned, over partially closed Interstate 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 from what the fire emitted.

Meteorologists had been consulted to determine the most favorable conditions for the fire.

The fire will likely smolder for much of the day, said Caldwell.

Authorities used helicopters to monitor the burn.

Residents watched from outside the evacuation zone.

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