A two-alarm explosion and fire in Gaithersburg, Maryland, on Wednesday destroyed part of two residential buildings and sent at least 10 people to hospitals, including four children. Two adults have traumatic injuries, an official said.
The blast swept through the Potomac Oaks Condominium in the 800 block of Quince Orchard Boulevard near Rabbit Road around 8:40 a.m. Wednesday, officials said. Montgomery County Fire & Rescue received multiple calls about the explosion and fire, which sent smoke into the air that was visible from miles away.
“It felt like we were being bombed,” said a man who felt the blast from his nearby office. “…My heart goes out to everyone.”
The fire went to a second alarm within minutes. Although much of the blaze was extinguished in about 40 minutes, hours later crews were still fighting a gas-fueled fire in the basement and continuing to fight flaring hot spots.
Video and footage from the scene showed a huge wall of orange flame and a gaping hole after the blast razed part of a garden-style apartment building. Smoke choked the gap between two jagged edges of the building that was apparently the site of the blast.
A 50 to 70-foot field of rubble and debris covered the grass outside the building. Large chunks of bricks and cinder blocks were visible.
“Wake up to an explosion in the front,” said one man who found a steel door blown into his living room.
The force of the blast was so powerful that two people in the area told News4 that their bodies had been physically shaken by the blast.
Ten people have been taken to hospitals, authorities said. Two adults were seriously injured and were rushed to a trauma center, Montgomery County Fire Chief Scott Goldstein said. Eight other people — four children and four adults — had non-life-threatening injuries, Goldstein said.
Other people were being evaluated, Fire & Rescue spokesman Pete Piringer said, but the situation was still fluid.
No information was yet available on whether anyone was still missing. Fire and rescue crews were working with Washington Gas to shut off the gas, but it wasn’t safe to look for anyone else in the building at the moment, Goldstein said at around 10:40 a.m.
Maintenance workers rescued two people from an apartment using ladders before firefighters arrived, Goldstein said.
The cause of the fire and explosion has yet to be determined, but Goldstein said there appeared to be a “gas-fueled” fire in the basement.
After first responders arrived, some residents told them they had smelled gas earlier in the morning.
“The smell of gas this morning had been reported to our investigators,” Goldstein said, but he said 911 before the explosion had not been called about the gas smell. However, it was not yet known if anyone may have contacted Washington Gas, other agencies or building management.
Anyone who smells gas at any time should call 911 immediately, Goldstein said.
In a statement late Wednesday morning, Washington Gas officials said they were “aware of the incident this morning in Montgomery County, Maryland. Our personnel are responding to assist firefighters on scene. As always, the safety of our customers and the community is our top priority. We support the active response to the incident and have no further details to share at this time.”