A man and a pet were found dead in rubble of a house that exploded and caught fire early Friday morning in Rockville.
Police cannot confirm whether the deceased was the homeowner. But one neighbor, who knew the home’s occupant for about 30 years, believed his friend died the moment his house went up in flames.
“We opened the door, and it was my wife who was the first one to say, ‘Steve’s house is gone,’” Peter Rice said.
Rice then looked on, at times capturing the chaos through his camera lens, as his friend’s house was swallowed in flames on a cold, dreary night.
One body and domestic animal (possibly a dog) found at Rockville home explosion, acc to fire chief. pic.twitter.com/0NzB6oWW1T— Matt Yurus (@Matt_Yurus) March 18, 2017
Dozens of firefighters fought the fire. They were enveloped by smoke and stood on ash. At least one firefighter stared in apparent disbelief. At the time, no one knew if anybody or any pets perished in the blast.
“I was yelling; my wife was yelling,” Rice recalled. “At first she said, ‘I think a tree hit the house or a transformer exploded,’” Rice added.
The explosion was reportedly felt at least a mile away and damaged 10 other homes, leaving one uninhabitable. Nonetheless, Rice held out hope that his friend was okay.
“When [officials] announced that they had found a body with a dog, it was almost heartbreaking,” Rice said.
Police will not confirm if it was in fact Steve’s remains until the autopsy is completed. But Rice is certain that his caring, helpful neighbor and friend of 30 years is no longer with us.
“When I look at the rubble, and I think that this is where Steve died,” Rice explained, “whether by choice or by accident, I just can’t wrap my head around it.”
While authorities do not know how the explosion ignited, neighbors said Steve was troubled. And Washington Gas did confirm that unauthorized gas had been running through the home, which was set to be foreclosed on the same day it exploded.
Authorities and crews spent Saturday collecting evidence and clearing the property. Several guns were found. Those weapons, and what is reportedly Steve’s old Toyota truck, were all that seemed to remain.
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Rice explained it was only in recent years that his neighbor became reclusive and somewhat detached. Yet, he remained well-liked in the community. A memorial popped up in his remembrance late Saturday evening.
“You always look back,” Rice said, “And you think, what could I have done more to of been something to Steve?”