Federal investigators confirmed Friday that a natural gas leak caused a deadly explosion and fire that leveled two apartment buildings in Silver Spring, Md., killing seven people and injuring 30 others, including three firefighters.
The explosion occurred around 11:50 p.m. Aug. 10 at the Flower Branch Apartments, where weeks before one resident had called 911 to complain of strong natural gas odors in the area. Several other residents of the complex told the press that there was a persistent smell of gas for weeks.
Some 300 investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the Montgomery County Police Department, and the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service are sifting through the debris of the toppled buildings, a process that is expected to take several more days.
“After conducting over 100 interviews of witnesses, reviewing countless hours of surveillance video, collecting and analyzing multiple pieces of evidence, reconstructing the gas meter lines and digging by hand through four stories of charred debris, we are prepared to say that this tragedy was the result of a natural-gas explosion,” said ATF lead investigator Daniel Board in a press conference.
Investigators said that the gas leaked from a pipe or piece of equipment at or near the gas meter of building 8701 where the explosion occurred. The released gas accumulated in the basement meter room until something ignited it.
“At this point in time in the investigation, there is no indication that a criminal act occurred,” Mr. Board said. “There was no incendiary or ignition device recovered in the location of the blast seat or the blast location, and there is no indication of unauthorized access to the meter room prior to the explosion.”
NTSB investigator Ravi Chhatre said the NTSB “will conduct lots of interviews and everything that we need to do to come up with a cause or a probable cause in this tragedy,” which has several families and community members desperate for answers.
As of Saturday afternoon, authorities had not been able to positively identify the bodies due to the severity of the blast and nature of the injuries, but the victims are believed to be: Saeda Ibrahim, 41; Augusto Jimenez Sr., age 62; Maria Auxiliadorai Castellon-Martinez, age 53; Aseged Mekonen, age 34; Deibi “David” Samir Lainez Morales, age 8; Fernando Josue Hernandez Orellana, age 3; and Saul Paniagua, age 65.