Home / National News / Death Toll Rises to Three After Explosion, Fire at Maryland Apartment Complex

 

(SILVER SPRINGS, Md.) — A third body has been pulled from the ruins of a Maryland apartment complex following an explosion and fire earlier in the week, police said.

The third body was found Friday afternoon, a day after two other bodies were pulled from the debris of the building in Silver Spring, Maryland. Investigators have not yet identified the three victims, whose bodies have been transported to the chief medical examiner’s office in Baltimore for autopsies and possible identification.

The blast and three-alarm fire at the Flower Branch Apartments late Wednesday night left at least 34 people injured, including three firefighters. Many of the injuries resulted from residents jumping out of windows, officials said.

Some 100 residents from 28 apartments in two buildings were forced to evacuate and are displaced, according to Montgomery County Fire Department spokesman Pete Piringer.

One building at the complex suffered structural collapse, several others were damaged and storefront windows across the street were shattered. Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service division chief David Steckel said the building still presents a “collapse hazard” to investigators and rescue crews, and that hot weather has made their working conditions difficult.

“It’s been a very challenging incident for us,” Steckel said at a news conference Friday afternoon.

As of Friday afternoon, approximately 110 residents from the apartment complex were accounted for since the explosion. But investigators have not yet been able to determine the exact number of residents missing, according to Montgomery County Police Department assistant chief Russ Hamill.

“Investigators are still working to identify the missing people from this event. Throughout the day, we have located many individuals that were originally thought to be missing,” Hamill told reporters Friday. “We do not have a number at this time.”

He said that if any residents are still trapped inside the building, it’s unlikely they’re alive.

“Tragically, that doesn’t seem that that’s a possibility at this time,” Hamill said at a news conference Thursday night.

Earlier Thursday, Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service chief Scott Goldstein said between five and seven residents were still unaccounted for.

Anyone seeking to locate loved ones from the complex can receive immediate assistance at the nearby Rolling Terrace Elementary School in Takoma Park, officials said.

Investigators are looking into the cause of the deadly blast and fire. The Montgomery County Police Department, the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) are jointly investigating.

ATF special agent Jeffrey Matthews said investigators will ultimately conclude whether the origin and cause of the explosion and fire was “accidental, incendiary or undetermined.”

There are natural gas furnaces and quick-fire stove tops in each apartment of the four-level buildings on Piney Branch Road, officials said. Washington Gas, which serves more than 1.1 million customers in Maryland, Virginia and Washington D.C., turned off the natural gas to the complex around 1:45 a.m. Thursday morning.

“Washington Gas is supporting local, state and federal officials responding to and investigating this incident. Our thoughts are with the families impacted by this event,” the company said in a statement to ABC News on Thursday.

Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett said fire and rescue teams responded to a complaint at the apartment complex on July 25 about the smell of gasoline in the area. Officials are looking into the complaint.

The American Red Cross and local officials have set up a temporary shelter at the Long Branch Community Center in Silver Spring for displaced occupants, like Mariana Turag.

Turag told ABC News she heard the explosion, which “felt like an earthquake,” and saw flames billowing out from her neighbor’s apartment unit.

“That blast was a warning for everyone to get out,” Turag said at the shelter Thursday. “I open the door — there was a big blast in the apartment across from me.”

For those looking for ways to help victims, financial donations can be made directly to the Montgomery Housing Partners, a nonprofit that has stepped up to help the displaced Flower Branch Apartment residents. Donations of goods can be taken to the CASA Welcome Center in Silver Spring.

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