12 hurt in fire, explosion at apartment complex in Gaithersburg, MD

Firefighters say 12 people were injured after a fire and explosion led to a structural collapse at an apartment complex in Montgomery County Wednesday morning.

The fire was reported around 8:30 a.m. in the 800 block of Quince Orchard Boulevard in Gaithersburg.

At a morning press conference on the scene, Montgomery County Fire Chief Scott Goldstein said 10 of those injured were transported. Two of those transported have critical injuries and the other eight, which he said were made up of four adults and four children, have mild to moderate injuries. He said two people were treated and remained on scene. No fatalities have been reported.

Initially, Goldstein said that the still active fire was being fed by gas from the basement area of one of the buildings. At a press conference at 2 p.m. Wednesday, he gave an update saying Washington Gas crews were able to shut off supply to the impacted buildings, and that the fires had been contained. He added that some smoldering fires may continue to burn in the debris from the explosion for several more hours.

Washington Gas sent FOX 5 a statement saying they respond to all odor calls. 

"The last odor call Washington Gas received and responded to at a unit in this building was on Sept. 22. A qualified technician was dispatched and conducted an indoor leak investigation and found no indications of a gas leak," the company stated.

The chief said buildings 826 and 828 suffered substantial damage in the explosion. In total, residents in 24 units in the complex were displaced, but investigators did not say how many residents specifically are impacted. At his 2 p.m. update, Goldstein indicated that almost all the residents of both buildings have been accounted for. He said the unaccounted for residents live in a unit in building 826, and that investigators are working to make contact with them.

According to Goldstein, fire crews have swept all the apartment complex and did not find any further active gas leaks. Police dogs also searched the area and did not make any discoveries in the debris.

Officials say a crane will be moved onto the scene on Wednesday night, and work will begin to stabilize the impacted buildings.

Officials believe residents, who not do not live in the 826 or 828 buildings, can return to their homes starting Wednesday night.

Department of Health and Human Services officials have set up a fundraiser website and shelter to help the displaced residents. Residents in need, can find the shelter at nearby Bohrer Park, located at 506 South Frederick Avenue. The Red Cross units is also assisting those displaced.

Prior to the arrival of firefighters, Goldstein said maintenance workers used a painter’s ladder to rescue a resident from a balcony. He also said Red Cross units are on the scene to assist those displaced.

Goldstein addressed reports that residents had reported the smell of gas prior to the explosion, saying officials have no record of 911 calls this morning from residents reporting the odor of gas.

The cause of the explosion is still under investigation.

Images from SkyFOX showed heavy smoke billowing from the multi-level residential building. 

FOX 5 spoke with Brandon Savage who was in a nearby office building when the blast happened. Savage said he heard what he described as a "massive explosion" before heading outside to find four residential units fully engulfed in flames. Debris was scattered at least 100 feet away from the buildings, he said. He also said one of the buildings looked as though it had completely collapsed.

Montgomery County Fire Spokesperson Pete Piringer tweeted that firefighters encountered ‘heavy fire conditions upon arrival.’ Images from Piringer show substantial damage to several buildings in the complex.

FOX 5’s Stephanie Ramirez spoke with several residents, one who reported feeling what felt like an explosion and seeing debris scattered across the area.

Nearby Brown Station Elementary School was placed on lockdown due to the emergency response in the area. No one at the school was injured in the blast.

While the cause of this explosion has not yet been identified, the scene is eerily similar to several other apartment fires that were determined to have been triggered by gas. 

In March of this year, an explosion at the Friendly Garden Apartments on Lyttonsville Road in the Silver Spring area of Montgomery County injured several people and displaced over 100 adults and children. That explosion was caused by a maintenance worker who accidentally cut a gas line.

In August 2016, an explosion killed seven people, including two children, and left many more injured at the Flower Branch apartments in Silver Spring. National Transportation Safety Board officials said a mercury service regulator that was not connected to its vent line was the source of a gas leak that led to that deadly explosion and fire.

The Montgomery County Council released a statement on the incident Wednesday afternoon. It said in part:

"The Council stands ready to support residents and those impacted as they begin to recover and rebuild from this devastating event. We will support the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service, Gaithersburg Fire Department and detectives from the Gaithersburg Police Department as they investigate the cause of the explosion. Tragically, this is the second catastrophic explosion and fire this year to impact and displace Montgomery County residents, following the explosion and fire at the Friendly Garden Apartments in Silver Spring this March. The Council remains committed to putting forth policies that protect tenants and keep families safe in their homes to prevent tragedies like this in the future."

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Pete Piringer @mcfrsPIO

This is a developing story. Stay with us for updates.