Lessons learned from Escondido's 'bomb house'

Bomb squad learns from Escondido house fire
Bomb squad learns from Escondido house fire
Posted at 11:27 AM, May 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-09 12:15:21-04

ESCONDIDO, Calif. (KGTV) - It was just a few weeks before Christmas 2010.  
Thick black smoke and huge orange fireballs filled the morning sky above Escondido. 
But this was no ordinary house fire; it was intentionally set by law enforcement.  
"That went all the way to the governor's office, Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a piece of paper and said burn that thing down. It was the safest option at the time," said San Diego Sheriff's Bomb Arson Sergeant and Squad Commander Greg Hampton. 

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Hampton is referring to the rental home of 54-year-old George Jakubec, an unemployed software engineer fired from his job for blowing things up at his desk. 
"He just liked playing chemistry. He took classes and liked putting chemicals together and making things blow up," said Hampton. 
The Sheriff's Department discovered what came to be known as the "bomb factory" when a gardener was seriously injured after stepping on an explosive in the yard.  
"They see Mason jars full of white powders and the amount in his backyard, of how much there, obviously started setting off some bells and whistles," said Sgt. Hampton. 
Once inside the cluttered house, investigators say they found the largest cache of homemade explosives in a single spot in the United States. 
"An explosion could have happened inside that house at any minute," said Sgt. Hampton during a recent interview with 10News.
After a lengthy investigation involving several agencies, it was determined the only way to render the house and the neighborhood safe was to conduct a remote-controlled burn of the house.  
"A lot of work, a lot of work went into those 30 days," said Sgt. Hampton, adding the controlled burn was a success. "It went off without a hitch."
Today the house on Via Scott is a concrete slab nestled between two homes. There's still a gas line, staircase and bed frame left on the lot. It's unclear what will become of it. Many of the neighbors who were there for the burn have moved away. 
Jakubec is serving a 30-year sentence in federal prison. He declined a 10News request to interview him. To this day, a motive has not been determined.  
"From what we understand, there was really no ill intent to do anything with these explosives, he just liked putting things together," said Sgt. Hampton. 
It was an expensive hobby. Investigators say Jakubec was robbing banks to pay for it. 
"He was robbing banks to help pay for the glassware and the chemicals and he was also, his wife didn't know he wasn't working anymore, so he had to have money somewhere," said Sgt. Hampton. 
A motion has been filed to have some of the charges related to the bank robberies dropped. It's part of a Supreme Court ruling that affects how those types of convictions are sentenced. If granted, it's unclear how Jakubec's sentence would be affected. 
Meanwhile, the way the agencies handled the dismantling of the "bomb factory" has become a model for the nation. 
"A lot of eyes were on us in the bomb community as to how this was handled," said Sgt. Hampton. 
In March, an apartment building in Wisconsin was set on fire after homemade explosives were found in one of the units. A house near Palm Springs was also burned to the ground when explosives were found inside. 
Hand grenades from the Jakubec case still sit on a desk in one of the bomb squad offices as well as a framed picture of the house engulfed in flames. 
"In this day and age, I would not be surprised if there's a house like that right now in San Diego," said Sgt. Hampton. 
When and if that happens, local agencies say they'll be ready.   
"Anybody, anytime, can put these things together and start doing these things."