ESCONDIDO (AP) — Authorities on Thursday set fire to a suburban San Diego home they said 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, sending smoke spewing across the neighborhood.

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The fire began with columns of smoke shooting through the roof before spectacular orange flames overtook the house. The flames quickly ate away at large chunks of the house, sending gray and black smoke into the air.

Scores of nearby residents were evacuated earlier. Authorities used helicopters and air pollution sensors to monitor the controlled burn for potential health problems.

Crews have built a 16-foot firewall and covered it with fire resistant gel to protect the closest homes. They also closed a portion of a nearby interstate highway. Authorities say the fire should be over within four hours.

The house was rented by an out-of-work software consultant who authorities say assembled an astonishing quantity of bomb-making materials that included chemicals used by suicide bombers.

Earlier Thursday, police opened windows and doors at the home, and drilled holes in the roof. Authorities were given protective breathing masks in case they need to enter the house if the blaze got out of control.

“It will burn very hotly, very quickly,” said Jan Caldwell, a spokeswoman for the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department. “We want everybody to do this job safely and go home to their family.”

Officials also closed a section of Interstate 15 near the fire that will be monitored by more than a dozen air pollution sensors.

Residents, onlookers and news crews were being kept at least 400 yards from the home. A dozen curious people gathered at a nearby shopping center to watch the flames. Some people planned to climb atop their roof or seek other vantage points.

Nick Bergmann, 17, hoped officials knew what they were doing.

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“They say it’s going to be just like a chimney,” he said. “But if there is a bunch of chemicals in there, I don’t know what I can do. I’m just hoping it doesn’t blow off too far toward us.”

The fire is expected to reach about 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit — hot enough to neutralize the unstable explosives inside.

Resident Shirley Abernethy, 82, 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.”

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 home is so cluttered with unstable chemicals that even bomb-disposing robots can’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 is 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.

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