About this Author
DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

Chemistry and Drug Data: Drugbank
Chempedia Lab
Synthetic Pages
Organic Chemistry Portal
Not Voodoo

Chemistry and Pharma Blogs:
Org Prep Daily
The Haystack
A New Merck, Reviewed
Liberal Arts Chemistry
Electron Pusher
All Things Metathesis
C&E News Blogs
Chemiotics II
Chemical Space
Noel O'Blog
In Vivo Blog
Terra Sigilatta
BBSRC/Douglas Kell
Realizations in Biostatistics
ChemSpider Blog
Organic Chem - Education & Industry
Pharma Strategy Blog
No Name No Slogan
Practical Fragments
The Curious Wavefunction
Natural Product Man
Fragment Literature
Chemistry World Blog
Synthetic Nature
Chemistry Blog
Synthesizing Ideas
Eye on FDA
Chemical Forums
Symyx Blog
Sceptical Chymist
Lamentations on Chemistry
Computational Organic Chemistry
Mining Drugs
Henry Rzepa

Science Blogs and News:
Bad Science
The Loom
Uncertain Principles
Fierce Biotech
Blogs for Industry
Omics! Omics!
Young Female Scientist
Notional Slurry
Nobel Intent
SciTech Daily
Science Blog
Gene Expression (I)
Gene Expression (II)
Adventures in Ethics and Science
Transterrestrial Musings
Slashdot Science
Cosmic Variance
Biology News Net

Medical Blogs
DB's Medical Rants
Science-Based Medicine
Respectful Insolence
Diabetes Mine

Economics and Business
Marginal Revolution
The Volokh Conspiracy
Knowledge Problem

Politics / Current Events
Virginia Postrel
Belmont Club
Mickey Kaus

Belles Lettres
Uncouth Reflections
Arts and Letters Daily
In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

In the Pipeline

« Going to Let Someone Else Do This One | Main | Exit Kindler »

December 3, 2010

Not On My Street - I Hope

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

Several people have called this guy to my attention: the Escondido wild man who seems to have had a good-sized explosives factory going in his house. He had kilo quantities of (highly explosive) PETN, HMTD, and all kinds of other things you Do Not Want in your basement (see that Chemistry Blog link for a list).

In fact, he and his home chemistry operation seem to have been too much for local law enforcement, who (at least at last report) bailed out of the house and haven't finished searching it yet. That sounds like an excellent decision - you couldn't pay me to go in the place and poke around. On the one hand, perhaps his lab technique wasn't so bad: he was able to work in those quantities without blowing himself up. But on the other hand, and by golly this hand wins, anyone who makes kilos of such things at home has very skewed ideas about risk, to the point that you don't really know what they're capable of. The owner's day job appears to have been robbing banks, which fits right in.

The latest news is a decision that the only way to deal with the house is to burn it. A sixteen-foot fire-resistant wall is being built around the place, and they're just going to let it rip. Beats going around in there opening drawers and looking under the sink, for sure.

Comments (34) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Chemical News


1. Mike W on December 3, 2010 3:32 PM writes...

I'd love to see footage of that place going up in flames, sounds like it could be a heck of a show...

Permalink to Comment

2. J-bone on December 3, 2010 3:48 PM writes...

Wildfire season may hit Escondido early this year, sheesh. I have a couple of good friends that live out there, I'll hafta see whether they're in the blast radius of people that are being forced to evacuate.

Permalink to Comment

3. steve on December 3, 2010 4:09 PM writes...

I thought they had robots for this stuff.

Permalink to Comment

4. Orion on December 3, 2010 4:11 PM writes...

This sounds a lot like when they decided the easiest way to dispose of a beached whale in Oregon was to detonate it. It was probably the same people who made this decision (after moving to San Diego).

Permalink to Comment

5. RM on December 3, 2010 4:23 PM writes...

It's not often that a cache of 13 grenades turns out to be one of the more innocuous items in a place.

Looking at the structure of HMTD, the mind boggles at the thought of a kilogram of the stuff in one place.

Permalink to Comment

6. milkshake on December 3, 2010 4:28 PM writes...

Sounds stupid - I would offer the guy a reduced sentence for cleaning up his house. Or they could have flooded it with a firefighting foam then use a remotely-operated bulldozer

Permalink to Comment

7. Chemjobber on December 3, 2010 4:36 PM writes...

In my handle, you can view the footage that Orion is talking about. A true proud moment for Oregonians.

Permalink to Comment

8. Jim in Seattle on December 3, 2010 4:56 PM writes...

You don't even need to be a hobby chemist to blow up the neighborhood. Your home is heated by natural gas, right? A couple in my city going through a divorce. The man tied up the woman in the basement, deliberately filled it up with natural gas, ignited it, and kaboom. The houses adjacent to ground zero were completely destroyed with deaths and the entire block looked like a war zone.

Permalink to Comment

9. J-bone on December 3, 2010 5:52 PM writes...

I just looked up his address, that's right next to the 15! Are they gonna shut down traffic? JEEEEZUS.

Permalink to Comment

10. J-bone on December 3, 2010 5:59 PM writes...

Oops, just read that they're shutting down 15. Definitely necessary considering the house is less than 500 ft from the freeway.

Permalink to Comment

11. Hap on December 3, 2010 6:00 PM writes...

The ChemBlog article says that traffic on I-15 will be shut down. That sounds fun.

I can understand not wanting to go in, but a burning a house full of explosives sounds like a recipe for supporting local new home builders. The authorities can contain the fire, perhaps, but how can they contain the blast, as well? Does the foam absorb concussion?

Is this covered by anyone's home insurance?

Permalink to Comment

12. Curious Wavefunction on December 3, 2010 7:31 PM writes...

I would love to be around when they light the charge on that a safe distance of course.

Permalink to Comment

13. Pig Farmer on December 3, 2010 9:10 PM writes...

Holy Cow!! Will anyone be uploading the footage of the house-warming to YouTube, I wonder?
And what exactly was he planning to blow up with all that stuff?

Permalink to Comment

14. Mildweasel on December 3, 2010 9:48 PM writes...

The exploding whale was the first thing I thought of also

Permalink to Comment

15. Anonymous on December 3, 2010 11:33 PM writes...

I used to work at CIL explosives (ICN) up in the montreal area many years back. We used PETN based blasting caps to detonate emulsion based explosives (supersaturated ammonium nitrate solutions dispersed in oil.. Kinda like a thickened mayonaise after you're done mixing it up). PETN is nasty and it always worried me, but the job was fun....i got to hit the button and detonate all kinds of formulations in the blasting tank. It was the coolest ever job given that I was an undergrad at the time...

Those were the good old I'm a med chemist in this crazy pharma environment...

Permalink to Comment

16. Anonymous on December 4, 2010 12:16 AM writes...


"I really am trusting in the authorities to do the right thing," said Bonnie Nugent, who lives about 100 yards from the house. "I'm not one bit concerned about our place."

Michael Williams, who lives across the street from Nugent, said he also wasn't concerned.

"I think they know what they're doing," he said. "If something got out of hand (during the fire), I'm sure they'd knock it down."


Permalink to Comment

17. gyges on December 4, 2010 6:47 AM writes...

Imagine if a hobbiest took all the labels off his chemicals (retaining safety labels) and replaced them with barcodes.

Imagine that the hobby lab was raided - perhaps because he bought an Erlenmeyer flask from ebay - and the hobbiest refused to hand over the barcode key to the raiders.

Do you think that they'd burn down his house?

Permalink to Comment

18. BambisMusings on December 4, 2010 4:36 PM writes...

Hmmm, only a fire resistant wall?

Hope they are evacuating neighbors and letting them remove all valuables before they do this!

Permalink to Comment

19. Dark-Star on December 4, 2010 10:43 PM writes...

What a bunch of buffoons. Why not call in the military? You know, the people who deal with deadly explosives *every day*?

But nope, can't do that! We'll just light it all on fire (never mind the pollution) and hope nobody's house gets flattened because our retaining wall crumbled like cardboard...

Permalink to Comment

20. Off Colfax on December 4, 2010 11:38 PM writes...


Can't send in the military. That would be using the military to augment a police function. And ever since a little fol-de-rol in Kent, OH, that's been a big no-no in this country. Then again, they might have already done that, and had the military demolition experts quietly sob in the deputy's ear at the sheer magnitude of the early-retirement-related explosion they could see blossoming in their minds' eye.

If the experts are saying that they aren't safe, then let it blow.

And post the link on YouTube. With Adam Savage doing commentary.

Permalink to Comment

21. dearieme on December 5, 2010 7:12 AM writes...

Do please keep us in touch with this tale, Dr Lowe. It's entertainment potential is immense.

Permalink to Comment

22. dearieme on December 5, 2010 7:13 AM writes...

Oh the embarrassment. "Its".

Permalink to Comment

23. Anonymous on December 5, 2010 11:21 AM writes...

"And ever since a little fol-de-rol in Kent, OH, that's been a big no-no in this country."

That was the National Guard, which was legal.
But you forget about Waco.
Yes, they were there.
Plus, it is has been a big no-no since the 19th century.
They just ignore and hide it when it is convenient for them.

Permalink to Comment

24. Justthisguy on December 6, 2010 5:03 AM writes...

When I read this I think of how Jack Parsons died. You know, the Aerojet founder, who was buddies with Elron? They say the biggest piece of him lived a little while after the explosion.

Permalink to Comment

25. davidtagliaferri on December 6, 2010 5:03 AM writes...

Am I the only one that likes the irony of the name of the city where these explosives were found. Escondido, "disappearing" Though, right now the "disappearing" will apply to only one of the houses and hopefully not more.

Permalink to Comment

26. Justthisguy on December 6, 2010 5:12 AM writes...

Hey, it's just a few kilos. (that they know about) There was a time when I used to say (tongue in cheek, honest!) that I wanted to have a coupla tons of Torpex in the basement hooked up to a dead man switch on the Barca-Lounger in case They came for me. "Oh, Hi, guys, door ain't locked, come on in!"

Permalink to Comment

27. Justthisguy on December 6, 2010 6:22 AM writes...

P.s. Sorry about the tone of what I wrote above. I think I have entirely too much love for the writings of Uncle Al, famous Profoundly and Severely Gifted Jewish High Autist Smartass. Y'all should read his account of having half of his skin instantaneously burned off in a Class D fire in his lab, if you can find it.

Permalink to Comment

28. Vader on December 6, 2010 10:55 AM writes...

Burning the place to the ground is not quite as silly as it sounds. A lot of modern explosives are insensitive enough that they will quietly burn without detonation given the chance. Incineration is, in fact, the disposal method of choice for certain classes of explosive waste:

However, my recollection is that PETN was not an insensitive explosive. And given that the house is going to suffer structural collapse at some point in its combustion, "quietly" does not seem the right word.

Permalink to Comment

29. Vader on December 6, 2010 11:01 AM writes...

Oh, and:

"Can't send in the military. That would be using the military to augment a police function. And ever since a little fol-de-rol in Kent, OH, that's been a big no-no in this country."

Actually, the use of the military for law enforcement has been prohibited since the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878. As someone already pointed out, this doesn't actually apply to the National Guard unless they've been federalized to fight a war.

Permalink to Comment

30. HelicalZz on December 6, 2010 1:15 PM writes...

Looks like more than a little 'playing at home' was going on.

Permalink to Comment

31. wwjd on December 6, 2010 1:32 PM writes...

Best quote from a neighbor:

She said she is praying for the best: "I would like all the homes to be here when they're done

Permalink to Comment

32. Willia_A_Nelson on December 7, 2010 4:28 AM writes...

Taking care of business:
Save the taxpayers money by letting the "wildman" clean out his own house under the auspices of police supervision and video surveillance. Preventing his escape is easy by outfitting him with a helmet that can "blind his vision" if he shows any attempt at foulplay.

Permalink to Comment

33. Pallas Renatus on December 8, 2010 11:25 PM writes...

Dear lord would I love to be around when this place goes off.

Permalink to Comment

34. Justthisguy on December 10, 2010 5:50 AM writes...

Willlla, I like that. I've always thought that a taste of one's own medicine is the best punishment.

Permalink to Comment


Remember Me?


Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):

The Last Post
The GSK Layoffs Continue, By Proxy
The Move is Nigh
Another Alzheimer's IPO
Cutbacks at C&E News
Sanofi Pays to Get Back Into Oncology
An Irresponsible Statement About Curing Cancer
Oliver Sacks on Turning Back to Chemistry