Officials say a natural gas explosion in the meter room of a Silver Spring, Maryland apartment building caused the Aug. 10 explosion that killed seven people and injured more than 40 in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Three of the seven people who died have been identified as Augusto Jimenez, Sr., 62; Maria Auxiliadorai Castellon-Martinez, 53, and Saul Paniagua, 65, Montgomery County Assistant Police Chief Russ Hamill said Friday.
Natural gas was a factor in the blast that involved two buildings in the Flower Branch apartment complex, ATF Special Agent in Charge Daniel Board confirmed Friday.
"...[T]his tragedy was the result of a natural gas explosion that occurred in the meter room of Building 8701," he said. "...Subsequent to that explosion was a natural gas-fed fire that consumed the apartments directly above and adjacent to the source of the fire."
Investigators conducted more than 100 interviews, reviewed surveillance video, analyzed evidence, reconstruct gas meter lines, and dug by hand through four stories of debris, Board said.
However, investigators are still trying to determine what caused the gas explosion.
There is no indication at this time that the blast was caused by criminal activity such as incendiary devices or unauthorized access to the meter room, Board said.
Because there are multiple possible ignition sources in an apartment building, Board said further investigation is necessary.
Residents of the apartment complex have told News4 that they had long complained of a smell of gas around the apartments, which each have a natural gas furnace and stove.
"I've been smelling gas for weeks," said Adriene Boye shortly after the explosion. "I called 911, they came and told us it smelled like incense. That's pretty sad. It's like they didn't take us seriously."
Boye said he smelled the gas on the night of the explosion, too -- but he didn't have time to call 911 before the building blew up.
Boye told News4 he is considering filing a lawsuit against Kay Apartment Communities, the company that managed the Flower Branch Apartments.
In a response to News4, Kay Apartment Communities said it has no record of Boye "reporting smelling gas on the evening of the explosion."
Joy West said she also could smell gas in the area prior to the explosion.
"When I walk in this area, you smell gas near the corner as you approached the gas station. But it's very strong on Flower, about a block from here," West said. "I just felt, and I told the guys at the store, 'You guys be careful 'cause one day something is going to blow up around here.'"
A woman who used to work for the management office at Flower Branch Apartments told News4 that the smell of gas was a common complaint during the years she was employed there.
"Oh my God. It finally happened," said the woman, who did not want to be identified. "They would send the maintenance people to check, but I think something more needed to be done."
Montgomery County Acting Fire Chief Alan Hinde confirmed the fire department had received one 911 call for the report of a natural gas odor, on July 25.
The fire department went to the area where the odor was reported, and surveyed building with a meter, but found no positive results, Hinde said.
At a meeting with officials Tuesday in the community center, residents received reassurances that Washington Gas had checked out the remaining buildings.
"The residents of the adjacent buildings should not experience a problem with their gas. If they do, they should certainly contact us," said Earl Stoddard of Montgomery County Emergency Services.
Four other victims of the explosion have yet to be positively identified, but authorities believe the victims are 3-year-old Fernando Josue Hernandez Orellana, 8-year-old Deibi "David" Samir Lainez Morales, 34-year-old Aseged Mekonen, and 41-year-old Saeda Ibrahim.
Another 31 people were injured, and scores of residents were traumatized by the explosion, which blew doors blocks down the street and shattered glass several streets away.
"They were sleeping in the car for a while," said one resident in Spanish. "Now they've returned to the apartments, but they're afraid to turn the gas stove on. They're afraid to cook."
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) began an investigation into the blast Thursday, said NTSB Investigator in Charge Ravi Chhatre. The NTSB is investigating because natural gas and petroleum pipelines are under the board's jurisdiction, he said.
Chhatre said the NTSB aims to have their investigation completed within a year.