At around 10:30 a.m. local time on Thursday morning, a sudden explosion ripped through an apartment complex, injuring more than a dozen people in the Washington DC suburb of Silver Spring, Maryland.

The Friendly Garden Apartments development consists of six four-storey buildings located in a quiet neighborhood opposite a local park. On March 3, it became the site of a massive fire, following what witnesses described as a loud “boom” that shook the ground nearby.

Firefighters work at the scene after an explosion and fire caused a building to collapse in Silver Spring, Md., Thursday, March 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The Montgomery County Fire Department said on Twitter that a call came in at 10:37 a.m. reporting a fire on the first floor of one of the buildings. By the time firefighters arrived, the raging fire had already spread to all four floors of one of the buildings.

Fire Chief Scott Goldstein said the incident injured 14 people, sending 10 of them to hospital. About 225 people were displaced by the incident, 35 of them due to the destruction of their units and the rest due to “short-term” and “long-term” displacement, Goldstein added. He said three of the complex’s six buildings are now “unsafe to reoccupy”.

Video of the incident posted on social media shows the complex from a high angle, capturing the height of the fire flames as they reach the top of the building. In another video of the incident, captured by a nearby security camera, an entire wall of the building is blown out from the inside as if it were demolition, followed by black smoke billowing from the structure.

Patricia Tyson, a witness who lives nearby, said Bethesda Magazine, “It was like something almost fell on my house.” Tyson, who knows someone who lived in Friendly Gardens, said: ‘We immediately started praying for her. She takes care of a son who is in a wheelchair.

On Friday, Fire Chief Goldstein appeared before the press with an update on the incident, saying investigators found a cut pipe in the basement of the building that exploded and caught fire. Washington Gas and Pepco, the local utilities, are working with the fire department in the investigation.

According to Goldstein, among calls made to emergency services from the apartment complex since Jan. 1, 2021, “there have been multiple medical calls, but no prior gas calls” or reports of the smell of gas in the room. apartment area.

Perhaps no 911 calls were made, but some residents still claimed there was a smell of gas the day of the explosion. One of the residents of Friendly Gardens, TJ Hall, told NBC Washington: ‘When I left this morning [on Thursday]I said to my grandmother: “It smells of gasoline.”

Goldstein said, “We are continuing to work to locate the ignition source, and we are currently working through several theories and working through the evidence until there is a conclusive point for the ignition source.”

Earlier Friday, Goldstein said a maintenance worker was doing plumbing work in the basement before the incident happened, but investigators were working to determine if there was a connection between the maintenance and the gas pipe cut. “It’s possible the worker cut that gas pipe,” Goldstein speculated, “and that’s a source we’re working on in our theory.”

Another resident, Alex Jecrois, who lives in one of the buildings in Friendly Gardens across from the one that exploded, said Bethesda Magazine a maintenance worker who was in his apartment building that morning alerted Jecrois that he had smelled what appeared to be a gas leak minutes earlier.

ResidentialOne, the property management company that operates the complex, released a statement on its website homepage saying all residents of Friendly Gardens had been accounted for, but three remained hospitalized. According to Zoominfo, the company is “a leading property management company in the Mid-Atlantic region” and claims to manage “nearly 10,000 units.” Its quoted revenue is over $84 million.

Records from the Montgomery County Permit Services Department show the building at 2405 that exploded and caught fire was in the midst of ongoing inspections prior to Thursday’s incident. County records for fire permits in these buildings, including 2,405, expired September 5, 2019. Permits are granted after sprinkler systems and fire alarms are inspected to ensure they are working.

County Executive Marc Elrich, a Democrat who served in longtime county council positions before being elected chief executive in 2018, circled the damage on Thursday and pledged to “do whatever we can get to the bottom of it and ultimately decide if there’s something that we, as a county, as a regulator, need to do.

Montgomery Housing Partnership, an area nonprofit, has set up fundraising efforts to support victims of the incident and help them find new homes. Elrich said the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission (HOC) is “reviewing its inventory of vacant units to help get people into permanent housing as soon as possible.” The HOC, which is funded by the county and administers what was once known as Section 8 housing, owns and leases thousands of ostensibly affordable housing units in Montgomery County.

Tyson, the witness who said she was worried about her neighbors in nearby Friendly Gardens, voiced some of the displaced people’s concerns, saying: ‘This apartment complex was originally built for residents who have been forced out of their homes due to urbanization. renewal. It’s a total shock and we’re sorry that such a thing happened.

The incident follows similar events in the region over the past decade. In 2016, a gas explosion four miles from Friendly Gardens at Flower Branch Apartments in Silver Spring killed seven people and displaced around 70 others. In 2020, the Maryland Public Service Commission fined Washington Gas $750,000 in connection with this explosion following an investigation that pointed to broken mercury regulators as the cause of the incident. .

An explosion in August 2020 destroyed several townhouses and resulted in the deaths of a 61-year-old student and a 20-year-old student in a northwest Baltimore neighborhood. The explosion was attributed to “a large buildup of natural gas the day after a contractor worked on an HVAC system in one of the homes,” the report said. Baltimore Sun .

Utility provider Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE) has reported a doubling of gas leaks in its lines since 2009.