Federal investigators blame deadly apartment building explosion on natural gas, 3 victims identified

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Picture Credit: Marlon Lopez

Silver Spring, Md. — Area leaders with the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms are ready to  call the deadly fire at the Flower Branch Apartments the result of natural gas but have not been able to determine why a gas buildup in the meter room of one of the apartment buildings led to an explosion.

To get those answers, investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board will now take control of the investigation but admit it may take them up to a year to publish a final report with the cause or probable cause for the fiery blast.

Also on Friday, the Montgomery County Police Department announced they were able to identify three of the seven bodies discovered in the rubble through DNA.  Those victims are Augusto Jimenez Sr., 62, Maria Auxiliadorai Castellon-Martinez, 53 and Saul Paniagua, 65.

apt blast victims HL

It’s not clear when other victims may be identified but a spokesman for the Montgomery County Police Department said it’s something they are still working on with a medical examiner’s office in the region. Police said they don’t expect to find any more victims in the debris.

The ATF is bowing out of the investigation after determining there was no criminal act behind the fire.  A spokesman for the organization said they found no device or accelerant which would indicate the fire was intentionally set. There was also no indication that anyone had gotten into the meter room to set the fire.

Some in the complex want to blame management for not doing enough following complaints about the smell of natural gas. Residents like Adrian Boye said it was a consistent problem that leasing office employees reportedly blamed on issues like paint.

“I don’t know what the result of the investigation is going to be I just feel like this could have been avoided,” said Boye.

A spokesman for the NTSB said their role in the investigation is not to assign blame but to determine if a cause for the fire and explosion can be determined.

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