On Thursday afternoon, officials announced that a massive fire and explosion that destroyed an apartment complex in Montgomery County, Maryland, has left two persons dead. The fire officials also reported that 34 other persons have been injured and several others remain unaccounted for.
According to the Washington Post, residents of the apartment complex were forced to toss children from the upper floors as they tried to flee the collapsing buildings; others were rescued by firefighters on ladders. The two persons who were killed in the 3-alarm fire have not yet been identified, their bodies spotted among the rubble when the firefighters had managed to cool down the blaze. The firefighters continued to search for those who remained unaccounted for up to the time of the press conference. Children are among those who are missing.
The cause of the overnight blast and fire has yet to be identified, but it is known that the explosion tore through the Flower Branch Apartments and has displaced more than 90 residents of the building. The division chief of the Montgomery County Fire Department, David Steckel, spoke during the press conference and described the difficulties firefighters encountered after responding to calls of the explosion and subsequent fire, having “multiple rescues” to carry out even as the flames grew.
Montgomery County executive Isiah Leggett said that the department’s heart “goes out to those affected.”
Leggett also revealed that there had been a previous gas scare at the Maryland apartment complex less than a month ago. The call came through at 10:16 p.m. on July 25, reporting the smell of gas at the same complex, but at this time it is not known if gas played a role in the current blast and fire. At the time, the firefighters and rescue personnel reached the 8701 Arliss St. address by 10:20 p.m and cleared the scene. The county is now trying to determine who exactly responded to that call and what tests were conducted, if any, as well as find out why the scene was cleared.
The Washington Gas company was able to turn off the natural gas which was supplied to the apartment building at around 1:45 a.m. Each apartment has a gas stove and a furnace.
WJLA has reported that witnesses have described that they could hear a loud “boom” while some residents said that they felt their homes shake as the explosion rocked the apartment complex. Even the firefighters, one mile away at the Four Corners Fire Station 16, said that they felt the explosion but at first thought it was a blown transformer.
ATF & MCFRS Fire & Explosive Investigators have a large debris field to search & document, some items >300 away pic.twitter.com/fcAr5FDlKr— Pete Piringer (@mcfrsPIO) August 11, 2016
As of the last figures released, the media has learned that 34 persons — 31 citizens, three firefighters — have been injured as a result of the fire and explosion at the Maryland apartment and have subsequently been taken to nearby hospitals.
The injuries the occupants of the apartment complex suffered range from minor to quite serious and include burns and even fractures sustained by persons who had to jump from the windows of the building as fire engulfed it. The injuries that the three firefighters received are said to be caused by smoke inhalation and heat exhaustion.
Two buildings were affected by the fire and explosion, and the units which were affected have displaced at least 90 persons. Temporary shelter has been established for those the fire had an impact on, being housed at the Long Branch Community Center at 8700 Piney Branch Road. Fire officials said that the Red Cross was on hand to provide aid in the form of essentials like food and water.
Chief Goldstein says that the explosion in the complex only caused one building to collapse, but four other buildings in the Maryland complex are in danger of collapsing.
A total of about 120 firefighters all responded to the scene and fought the blaze for approximately six hours. They took shifts in the battle against the apartment complex fire, going in for one hour before taking a rest and rehydrating.
The cause of the explosion has yet to be determined but investigators are on the case.
[Photo by Susan Walsh/AP Images]