2 Dead, 31 Injured in Explosion and Fire at Maryland Apartment Building

Emergency crews respond to a three-alarm apartment complex explosion and fire in Silver Spring, Md. (Clarence Williams/The Washington Post)
Emergency crews respond to a three-alarm apartment complex explosion and fire in Silver Spring, Md. (Clarence Williams/The Washington Post)

Two people died and 34 were injured after a massive blast and fire leveled a Silver Spring, Md. apartment complex, forcing residents to toss children from upper floors and flee collapsing buildings, fire officials said Thursday.

Authorities said at lunchtime press conference they were still working to identify the dead and uncover the cause of the overnight blast and fire, which tore through the Flower Branch Apartments displacing more than 90 residents.

“Firefighters were met with heavy fire conditions and multiple rescues to be made,” said David Steckel, division chief of the Montgomery County Fire Department during the news conference.

Firefighters continued to search for “some” missing residents of the Piney Branch Road apartments on Thursday afternoon, but backed off figures released earlier that five to seven people were still unaccounted for.

Montgomery County executive Isiah Leggett said “Our heart goes out to those affected.”

Leggett said at the news conference that officials had received a call on July 25 about the smell of gas at the complex, but it remained unclear if a leak played a role in the blast and fire.

Tim Firestine, the county’s chief administrative officer, said the county received a call at 10:16 p.m. July 25 about a smell of gas at 8701 Arliss St. and fire and rescue personnel responded at 10:20 p.m. They cleared the scene at 10:32 p.m., Firestine said, and the county is still trying to determine who responded, what tests if any were conducted and why the scene was cleared,

On Wednesday, a resounding blast occurred shortly before midnight that could be heard over a mile away and shook the affected buildings, 8701 and 8703 Arliss, like an earthquake, some residents said. An off-duty police officer was the first to report the blast at 11:52 or 11:54 p.m., officials said.

The explosion sent a door across the street, left clothes in trees and shoes strewn across a road. The two buildings resembled the site of a bomb blast with a gaping hole left in them. The flames that followed created a desperate scene.

“People were dropping children and jumping out of other windows,” Montgomery County Fire Chief Scott Goldstein said of the fire at an early morning briefing on Thursday. “Everybody was getting out of the building as rapidly as possible.”

Goldstein said that a K-9 team searching the rubble of the apartment complex had a “hit.” He said it could indicate someone is trapped in the debris. It was unclear if that hit turned out to be one of the people confirmed dead.

Clara Mazunder said she woke up to a loud “boom,” looked out her bedroom window and saw flames. The 39-year-old yelled to her two sons, ages 18 and 10, to get out of the apartment.

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SOURCE: The Washington Post