Montgomery County (MD) Fire & Rescue Service
SILVER SPRING, Md. - Authorities in Maryland have confirmed two deaths following a fire that injured dozens at a Montgomery County apartment complex overnight.
Montgomery County police confirmed the victims were located within the building. Their bodies were recovered and they have been transported to the medical examiner where an autopsy is scheduled to be performed on Friday. They have not been identified.
A total of 31 residents and three firefighters were transferred to local hospitals with non-life-threatening injuries. The firefighters had minor injuries and were treated and released. Hospital officials said most of the people brought to their facilities were released after treatment.
At least 100 people have been displaced by the blaze and several others have been reported missing. CASA de Maryland and the Red Cross are accepting donations to help the displaced residents. (Learn more on how you can help the victims of the Silver Spring apartment fire)
Fire officials said the building is a collapse hazard and they are still working to stabilize the area. The cause of the fire is still undetermined and police are working with fire investigators and the ATF in the investigation.
Search teams on the ground and through the air looked for survivors while firefighters continued to battle hotspots. A K-9 team searched through the rubble of the apartment complex. Many residents were housed at a community center while emergency crews continued their search.
An off-duty Montgomery County police officer was the one who first reported the fire and building collapse. Fire officials said crews at a firehouse about a mile away from the scene felt a blast before they were called to the scene. When firefighters arrived, civilians on the scene had already begun using ladders to try and rescue people who were trapped on the upper floors of apartment units. The magnitude of the explosion propelled clothing and shoes into the street and nearby trees.
“It felt like a huge bomb,” said one girl who witnessed the chaotic scene. “We all woke up. People were running out with fire all over their body. People throwing the kids from balconies so they can be saved."
Emergency units continue to work with structural engineers to determine the safety of the building. Officials said the gas utility company was called to the scene to help turn off supply lines to the apartment units which are all equipped with natural gas furnaces and stoves.
At least one woman who lives in a neighboring apartment building said she has detected the smell of gas for a while.
"I have been constantly having problem with a gas leak,” said Kerry Benny. “I know the smell of gas. To this day, I don't use my oven. I am so afraid."
Officials said they are looking into the reports of natural gas. Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett told reporters a complaint of a gas smell was investigated in the area on July 25, but he did not go into any more details.