Evacuation Area Expands as Officials Prepare to Incinerate Home Packed With Explosives

An evacuation zone surrounding a mobile home just west of Redding city limits that is packed with more than 60 pounds of explosives and other volatile chemicals was expanded to 2,000 feet Friday morning as authorities finalize plans to torch the structure on Sunday.

The mandatory evacuation, expected to last five days, applies to people living near the home at 9021 Chaparral Drive that was occupied by D. Ray East, the 64-year-old man who blew off his left hand Feb. 6 while dabbling with what he told authorities was fuel for model rockets.

At a press conference on Thursday, Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko provided an update on the situation and announced the decision to incinerate the home and nearby outbuildings. The amount of explosives, including some 40 pounds of gunpowder, the difficulty in determining what other chemicals are present, the danger posed by those materials authorities are aware of and the cramped quarters all combined to support the decision to burn the mobile home and nearby outbuildings, Bosenko said.

Experts with both the Shasta County and FBI bomb squads have deemed the potent mix of explosives and chemicals to be too dangerous for conventional disarming and investigative tactics, including the use of a bomb-removal robot.

“The only feasible approach is to incinerate the house,” Bosenko said. The operation will be conducted on Sunday, weather permitting, or as soon as optimal weather conditions present themselves.

Environmental and public health officials will be on site, and the air will be monitored “before, during and after” the burning to help minimize the risks to nearby residents, Bosenko said.

Residents in the vicinity have been under evacuation orders for more than a week. Bosenko said there are about 30 residences within 1,000 feet of East’s home and that most residents have complied with the initial evacuation orders.

The few who have remained may not be in violation of state or federal laws, Bosenko said, but they may be committing “a violation of common sense.”

“We want people to in their homes and safe—when it’s safe. Be safe, use common sense and heed our warnings,” Bosenko said. Sheriff’s deputies are keeping the evacuated area under 24-hour watch.

At Thursday’s press conference, a low-quality enlargement of a photograph taken in the East’s home was displayed. It showed a cluttered room with containers of chemicals, a 5-gallon water bottle full of a green liquid, a hot plate, electrical cords and scorch marks on a wall.

Bosenko said bomb experts were able to identify some hexamethylene triperoxide diamine (HMTD)—a rudimentary and highly sensitive explosive that can detonate when jostled—as well as the components necessary to produce a chlorate mixture that can be used as a plastic explosive experts often refer to as “a poor man’s C4.”

East, who is being treated at Mercy Medical Center, has not been arrested and has no known previous arrest record, Bosenko said. However, the sheriff emphasized that an investigation is ongoing and East may possibly be subject to either state or federal prosecution pending the investigation’s outcome.

East initially said he was making fuel for rockets when the Feb. 6 explosion and flash fire occurred, and later said he was making explosives to fuel rockets, Bosenko said. East subsequently declined additional interviews and retained defense attorney Jeffrey Stotter.

Stotter has told reporters that East has maintained the chemicals in the home can be volatile is misused but that the Chaparral Drive community is not in imminent danger.

Bosenko said he is relying on the opinion of local and federal bomb experts rather than a hobbyist who just had his hand blown off in an explosion.

People affected by the evacuation are encouraged to attend a meeting at 6 p.m. Friday at the Red Cross temporary shelter at the National Guard Armory, 3025 South St. in Redding.
Jon Lewis is a freelance writer living in Redding. He has more than 30 years experience writing for newspapers and magazines. Contact him at jonpaullewis@gmail.com.

Jon Lewis

Jon Lewis is a freelance writer living in Redding. He has more than 30 years experience writing for newspapers and magazines. Contact him at jonpaullewis@gmail.com.