ATF: Natural gas explosion caused Maryland apartment fire, 3 victims identified

SILVER SPRING , Md., Aug. 20 (UPI) — Natural gas was the cause of an explosion and fire that killed seven people in a Maryland apartment complex on Aug. 10, authorities said.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives shared a photo of the aftermath and said a natural gas explosion in the apartment’s meter room caused the deadly blast. They also said there was no sign of a criminal act.

“This tragedy was the result of a natural gas explosion that occurred in the meter room of Building 8701,” ATF Special Agent in Charge Daniel Board said, according to NBC Washington. “Subsequent to that explosion was a natural gas-fed fire that consumed the apartments directly above and adjacent to the source of the fire.”

Montgomery County Assistant Police Chief Russ Hamill said bodies of three of the seven victims were also identified as Augusto Jimenez, Sr., 62; Maria Auxiliadorai Castellon-Martinez, 53, and Saul Paniagua, 65.

The ATF conducted more than 100 witness interviews, reviewed surveillance video, reconstructed gas meter lines and dug through debris by hand to determine what ignited the gas leak.

“From the site of the explosion itself, we’re trying to find out what ignited or caused or started that explosion, as in the specific incident or specific item from inside that room,” Board told WTOP.

Residents reported having smelled gas prior to the explosion and Montgomery County fire officials confirmed a call about a natural gas odor near the apartment on July 25.

Acting Fire Chief Alan Hinde said the fire department surveyed the building with a meter but found no positive results.

The National Transportation Safety Board began its own investigation into the blast on Thursday and aim to complete it within a year. The NTSB most frequently investigates transportation incidents but also reviews gas pipeline safety.

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