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July 23, 2014

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California sheriff to destroy explosive-laden home

REDDING, Calif. — Authorities prepared Friday to burn down a mobile home where they said more than 60 pounds of highly volatile explosive material was found, making it risky for deputies to walk the California property and forcing the evacuation of dozens of nearby residents.

The chemicals, gunpowder, primers for firearms cartridges and other materials were discovered on Feb. 6 after authorities responded to an explosion at the dwelling in a sparsely populated area of Redding in Northern California.

A resident, identified as D. Ray East, 63, lost his left hand, broke his right arm and almost lost sight in one eye in the blast, Shasta County sheriff's Lt. Dave Kent said.

East remained hospitalized, and Kent said a warrant was expected for his arrest. East told investigators he was making fuel for model rockets, according to Kent.

The mandatory evacuations began on Feb. 7 and were expanded Friday by another 30 or so homes, Kent said. Roughly 55 homes were under evacuation orders.

"Unfortunately, we're going to have to destroy the house," he said. "Whether it's cutting electricity to the house or placing materials to set the fire, anybody in that area is at risk."

East's attorney, Jeffrey Stotter, told the Record Searchlight of Redding (http://bit.ly/1gGaPhn) that East regrets the inconvenience he has caused his neighbors but doesn't think the materials at his home pose a threat.

The sheriff's office and local officials disagreed. The Shasta County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved an emergency declaration, and the sheriff's office expanded the evacuation area to a radius of 2,000 feet from the house.

"I'm not happy about this, but if (the house) blows up, I'd rather not be in it," resident Liam O'Connell told the newspaper as he evacuated.

O'Connell and his wife planned to stay with their daughter but first needed to make arrangements for their pet goat.

The Red Cross has set up an evacuation center, though Kent said most of the displaced residents were with friends or family.

Deputies planned to consult with water and air quality officials before proceeding with the incineration. Smoke plume models will be used to determine where the chemicals could disperse, Kent said.

"We're looking for clear skies and no wind," he said.

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