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Authorities will use unprecedented “burn-in-place” method to clear explosive materials

By KESQ & CBS Local 2 News Staff, newsline3@kesq.com
Greg Lee, KESQ News Channel 3 & CBS Local 2 Reporter, glee@kesq.com
Published On: Aug 06 2014 08:06:05 AM CDT
Updated On: Jun 26 2014 01:00:00 AM CDT

Authorities say they need to burn down a home with explosive chemicals to make the community safe again.

CATHEDRAL CITY, Calif. -

It will take burning down a home in the Sungate Country mobile home park to dispose of the dangerous materials inside. Authorities made the announcement to residents at a meeting Wednesday afternoon.

According to the Cathedral City Police Department, officers were called to Sungate Country mobile home park around 2 AM Tuesday morning. The club is located off of east Palm Canyon Drive and Sungate across from Palm Springs Motors.

Police were responding on a welfare check after a woman called them from San Diego to report her 22-year-old brother Sean Clark was acting delusional inside her father's home.

When they arrived to the home on Sunseeker place, they found Clark with an explosive device wrapped in tape in his pocket. "His behavior appeared to be suspicious as they spoke with him at the door and went into the mobile, they saw what appeared to be materials that could be used to make explosive devices,” said Chief Kevin Conner from the Cathedral City Police Department.

The materials included a large amount of powder used to make explosives, including several dismantled shotgun shells and buckshot, police said in a statement.

Clark's behavior also led police to believe he was under the influence of a controlled substance.

Clark told police he made the explosive device using potassium nitrate and aluminum powder. He also said he was carrying it for protection. He was taken to the hospital for a mental health evaluation and was later arrested.

Felony charges have been filed against Clarke. He's expected to be arraigned at the Larson Justice Center in Indio Thursday afternoon.

The FBI, Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, Environmental Protective Services, Cathedral City Fire Department and several other agencies were called to respond to the situation. People around the home were evacuated around 2AM and kept away from their homes for most of the day.

"They said, you need to get out and I said why and they said there's an explosive situation, you need to get out now,” said William Ekaitis, who lives next door to the home in question.

Once people were evacuated, the bomb squad began working to remove the explosive device from the front porch of the home. Two robots were sent in to investigate the IED (Improvised Explosive Device).

At about 6:45 PM, nearly 17 hours after police first arrived, a robot shot a “disarming cartridge” at the device. A small pop could be heard from the shot. Then, a member of the bomb squad went to pick up evidence. "The experts in this case are obviously the bomb squad, and when you work with the bomb squad, you know it's slow and easy to make sure everyone's protected,” said Chief Conner.

Authorities determined the most effective, efficient, and safest option to get rid of the explosive powder in the home is to conduct a 'burn in place', which means they will secure and prepare the mobile home to be set on fire to consume the hazardous materials.

The controlled burn will be handled by the fire department, but it first must be approved by the Riverside County Environmental Health Department. Authorities said the action would result in a total loss of the residence, but it would ensure the safest destruction of the materials with the least amount of risk and impact to the community. The approval from Riverside County Environmental Health could take several days. "Fire department and their partners will come in, and prep the actual coach in question, and the surrounding coaches to make sure they're as safe as they possibly can be,” said Captain Chuck Robinson from the Cathedral City police department.

The fire department said the earliest the burn could happen is on Friday. Police told residents at a meeting then escorted people who live never the home, who were evacuated, back to get some of their belongings. At least one resident doesn’t like the decision. "I would much rather they use foam or something then lift the trailer up and move it out, instead of setting fire to it there, I mean the potential danger,” said Rita Martin, who was evacuated.

Also, the unprecedented nature of the “burn-in-place” method. This is the first time it will be used in Riverside County, only the second time in the state. For those reasons, everyone involved is being extra cautious. "Concerns for us, due to location, proximity to other coaches, the folks that we have to evacuate,” said Captain Robinson.

Everyone in the park will evacuate when the house burns. The whole situation’s still hard to believe for several people in the 55 and up community. "Under the circumstances, it's kind of trying, because you don't think things like this are going to happen,” said Vera Brewster, who lives in the complex.

While residents say it’s inconvenient and even scary, they just want this dangerous mess to get cleaned up. "There's an awful lot of people around and I would think that they're doing the very best they can, and I'll hope and pray it all works out,” said Brewster.