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14 injured, all known residents accounted for after massive Silver Spring apartment fire and explosion

Three people are still being treated for serious injuries from a fire at the Friendly Garden apartments in Silver Spring.

SILVER SPRING, Md. — EDITOR'S NOTE: The complex previously was misidentified in an earlier version of the story. It is the Friendly Garden Apartments. 

At least 14 people were injured and over 200 people are displaced after a two-alarm fire and explosion that engulfed a 4-story apartment building in Silver Spring Thursday morning. Three of the injured people remain in serious condition as of Friday, fire officials said.

Montgomery County Fire Chief Scott Goldstein said all building residents have been contacted and accounted for, and three of the six buildings in the complex have been declared unsafe to occupy. 

Goldstein said K9 crews are on scene Friday searching through the debris for additional signs of life or death. Officials are trying to make sure that there weren't any visitors or unknown people in the apartment at the time of the incident.

Fire officials have reason to believe that the possible cause of the explosion may have happened after a property maintenance worker was fixing something in a building. Goldstein said the maintenance worker was in the building at the time of the incident and is in an area hospital with injuries.

“One of the components that is being used in an investigative theory is that the work involved with that maintenance individual led to this explosion. That is an investigative theory along with several others until we get through all of the debris and a thorough examination of the building. We cannot rule out any of our active theories and cannot identify that that was the cause of the explosion,” said the fire chief.

There still remain areas of uncertainty and officials plan to explore other sources that may have caused the blast.

As of Friday, six buildings at the apartment complex are without power due to a damaged transformer caused by the explosion. Goldstein said PEPCO will be on scene Friday to replace the transformer and get three of the six apartment buildings occupied. Goldstein said his goal is to get the three buildings reoccupied Friday. Unfortunately, buildings 2405, 2401 and 2411 are "unsafe to preoccupy"  due to significant damage. 

Firefighters were called to the Friendly Garden Apartments, a six-building complex, around 11 a.m. for a reported fire and explosion in building 2405. Heavy fire was found on the first and second floors of the building, according to Montgomery County Public Information Officer Pete Piringer and a second alarm was called to get more help to the scene. 

Credit: WUSA9
Fire engulfs the Friendly Garden apartment building in Silver Spring after an explosion was reported.

Multiple rescues were conducted by firefighters on the scene, officials said. Witnesses describe seeing people trying to jump from windows. 

Goldstein originally said 10 people were taken to the hospital for treatment, three with critical injuries; seven others had injuries Goldstein described as moderate to minor. As of Friday, Goldstein said an additional three people took themselves to the hospital --- totaling 14 people. He noted some people refused treatment at the hospital. 

According to So Young Pak, the director of media relations communications and public affairs for Washington Hospital Center, three patients were treated at the MedStar Washington Burn Center. There is no word on conditions yet.

Anyone wishing to make donations to help impacted residents can visit MHPartners.org

Goldstein said the fire was extinguished and crews are working on the stability concerns of the building. Equipment is on the scene to help take down high and large parts of the building that are a "fall hazard" before firefighters can safely continue working on the search and rescue efforts. 

"We are working through a wide range of concerns and possibilities are focus is on life safety at this time," said the chief said Thursday.

Witness Garfield Campbell said he lives next door to the apartment when he heard the explosion.

"My mom called me to see what was going on, but I didn't know what was going on. I saw the blaze across the fence. So I jumped the fence and saw people laying on the ground," Campbell said. He said he saw people with burns on the ground. "I started knocking on doors trying to get everybody out."

Campbell described the explosion as "huge."

Another witness said he was scared for his grandma, who lives in the apartment building.

"I was scared for my grandma. I was worried. I rushed over here as fast as I could to make sure my grandma was OK," TJ Hall said through tears.

Hall said he feared for friends who he believed were trapped in the building when it collapsed. 

Another man said he was sleeping on the third floor when he woke to flames in his apartment. He got out of the apartment safely thanks to firefighters and his daughter.

Montgomery County Health Human Services will be opening a shelter and the American Red Cross is also assisting. 

Gov. Larry Hogan has said his team is in contact with Montgomery County officials and "have offered their full assistance in response to this fire and explosion in Silver Spring."

County Executive Marc Elrich spoke to reporters and called the scene "horrifying." He noted that "these are affordable housing units" and that county leaders will support those affected "for as long as it takes."

"My sympathies go out to all affected by this horrible and tragic event," he wrote on Twitter. "We are going to do everything we can to get to the bottom of this and help those in need."

WUSA9 learned that according to county records, the Friendly Garden Apartment's fire code compliance inspection, fire alarm system and sprinkler system passed inspection exactly one month ago. The permit does not expire until September 2023. 

A manager with the department of permitting services says he doesn’t see any service requests or complaint cases listed in the system for this address.

Friendly Gardens was due for an inspection with the Department of Housing and Community Affairs last year, but it was delayed due to the pandemic. WUSA9 was told county inspectors spoke with property managers Tuesday to schedule an inspection at the end of this month.

The Friendly Garden Apartment is a garden-style apartment. It's not the first time fire and explosions have devastated garden-style apartments in Silver Spring.

In January, a huge fire affecting three garden-style apartments left a couple of dozen people without a home in Silver Spring, forcing them to shelter in a nearby library. At least 85 firefighters helped battle the blaze and rescue residents of the Flower Branch Apartment complex on Garland Avenue off Arliss Street around 4 a.m. on Jan. 8. No injuries were reported.

RELATED: Dozens rescued, about 50 displaced after 2-alarm fire at Flower Branch Apartments in Silver Spring

A different part of the Flower Branch Apartments in Silver Spring was rocked by a natural gas explosion that killed seven people and injured nearly 70 others in 2016.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which led the investigation into the Flower Branch apartment explosion in 2016, said it is “is in the process of gathering information” on critical explosion and 2-alarm fire at Silver Spring Apartment Building Thursday morning.

RELATED: Settlement reached in deadly 2016 apartment explosion in Silver Spring

RELATED: 59-year-old man dead in Fairfax County 2-alarm fire

RELATED: 2 dead in Southwest DC 2-alarm apartment fire

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