Natural gas involved in Silver Spring apartment explosion that left 7 dead; 3 positively identified

Authorities said an explosion and fire at a Silver Spring apartment complex last week was caused by natural gas and started in the building's meter room and involved natural gas.

Officials from the Montgomery County police and fire departments along with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the National Transportation Safety Board revealed the new details during a news conference Friday at a Silver Spring community center near the site of the Aug. 10 explosion at the Flower Branch Apartments.

Officials said they interviewed more than 100 witnesses, dug through the debris, reconstructed gas lines and looked through surveillance footage to confirm the cause that happened at the apartment complex located on Piney Branch Road and Arliss Street.

Several residents have said there were frequent complaints about the smell of gas leading up to the devastating blast and fire. But Clark Melillo, president of Kay Management Company, said they have an elaborate system of recording complaints.

"Since the beginning of the year, we have had two complaints - one in January and one in May for the smell of gas," he said. "Both complaints were investigated. A technician went to their apartment with an electronic sniffer and found no gas. It had dissipated by the time we were there."

Melillo also addressed another report of gas back in July.

"Everybody knows there was another report on July 25th. The fire company came out - a 911 call - and they found no source, no leak of gas," Melillo said.

But Adriene Boye, the resident who made that 911 call that day, is now pursuing a civil lawsuit.

"We have information that the management company was repeatedly told that there was a gas leak and that they should look into it," said attorney Joseph Cammarata.

"I believe this could have been avoided," said Boye.

The investigation into the explosion, led by the NTSB, will continue because officials said there were several possible ignition sources inside that meter room. But they do not believe that this was a criminal act.

In the meantime, police said the process of identifying the seven bodies found in the debris is slow. It requires DNA and dental records. But they have positively identified three of the victims - Augusto Jimenez Sr., Maria Auxiliadorai Castellon-Martinez and Saul Paniagua

For the families with loved ones still missing, the identification process is agonizing.

The NTSB, which reviews gas pipeline safety, said it will be at the Silver Spring complex for a few more days as the investigation process continues.