At least seven people were killed and dozens of others were injured on the night of August 10, 2016, when a suburban Washington D.C. apartment complex exploded, sparking a massive fire that continued to smolder until the next morning. The Silver Spring, Maryland apartment fire was initially reported at around 11:52 p.m. on Wednesday night by an off-duty police officer near the intersection of Arliss Street and Piney Branch Road.
Families Reeling After Tragic Explosion and Building Collapse
Claudia Loayes was fast asleep in her second-floor apartment in the Flower Branch Apartments when she was jolted awake by the explosion. Her husband, Aroldo Diaz, quickly ran out the front door of their apartment to see what had happened. After seeing smoke in the hallway, he woke the couple’s daughter and another girl in their care and ran out the door.
The four of them could feel the floor start to give way as they ran down the stairwell. The walls appeared to be closing in around them and smoke made it next to impossible to see what was in front of them.
Loayes, Diaz, and the kids were able to escape just before the apartment building collapsed. Others who live in the Flower Branch Apartments were not so lucky.
“They were all screaming,” Loayes said after the building collapse. She heard her neighbor desperately crying for help, calling out for her son. “I wish there was something I could’ve done to help her,” Loayes said.
An estimated 120 firefighters and EMS workers arrived at the scene of the Maryland apartment fire shortly after midnight to find people dropping their kids and jumping out of windows, anything they could do to escape. Officials at the scene were able to rescue many residents who were trapped inside the building, including some who were on the upper floors.
According to the Washington Post, the explosion had been so severe that it blew a door all the way across the street. When daylight finally broke on Thursday, Loayes realized how lucky she and her family had been to escape the blast and building collapse. The two apartment buildings looked as if they had been bombed, reduced to rubble.
Officials said early Thursday that several victims who had been injured in the Maryland apartment fire were taken to area hospitals with injuries ranging from minor to serious. Some were being treated for smoke inhalation and burn injuries. Others were treated for broken bones after they were forced to jump from their apartment windows.
Fire Officials Discuss Maryland Apartment Fire
At a news conference following the tragedy, Montgomery County Fire Department officials ran through what is known thus far about the Maryland apartment fire. David Steckel, divisions chief of MCFD told the press that as of Thursday, two people have been confirmed dead and at least 31 others suffered injuries.
That number increased days later when authorities told the media that they had pulled the sixth body out of the rubble. According to Montgomery County officials, the sixth victim is believed to be among seven deceased men, women, and children presumed to be in the apartment building at the time of the building collapse.
Authorities are still working to identify the deceased and come to a conclusion on what may have caused the explosion and subsequent building collapse.
Maryland Apartment Fire Caused by Gas Leak?
Investigators will be looking into calls that reportedly came from Flower Branch Apartments residents on July 25 at around 10:16 p.m., complaining of a gas odor. Montgomery County chief administrative officer Tim Firestine confirmed that fire and rescue personnel responded to the calls at around 10:20 p.m. that evening and cleared the scene by 10:32 p.m.
According to Firestine, Montgomery County is still assessing who responded to the calls, what tests, if any were conducted, and why exactly the scene was cleared that night. A spokesman for Washington Gas would not confirm or deny that the company had received calls about the gas odor from residents in July, only that the company is “supporting the investigation.”
According to NBC Washington, residents had reportedly smelled gas for days prior to Wednesday night’s explosion and subsequent building collapse. “I’ve been smelling gas for weeks,” resident Adrian Boya said. “I called 911, they came and told us it smelled like incense … That’s pretty sad. It’s like they didn’t take us seriously.”
The official cause of the Maryland apartment fire will likely take weeks, if not months, to be determined. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms has sent its National Response Team to Silver Spring to help Montgomery County officials with the investigation.