A gas explosion rocked an Oakland Mills apartment building yesterday morning, triggering a blaze that left at least six families homeless.
The fire slightly injured two people and caused property damage of at least $400,000, fire officials said.
"It was a kaboom, like a bomb," said Veronique Blake, 30, who lives in the building. "It was pretty loud and shook everybody."
The three-alarm blaze, at 9623 Basket Ring Road in the Dorsey's Forge Apartments, started on a lower level of the brick building and quickly spread to the second and third floors. It destroyed the back of the building and left all six apartments damaged by smoke and fire.
Gwendolyn Butler, 45, and Ronald Buster, 38, who were in a bottom floor apartment, were taken to Howard County General Hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation and released, fire officials said.
The explosion occurred about 9 a.m. as two Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. workers tried to replace underground pipes that feed into gas meters -- a project they had begun at the complex Monday, said Art Slusark, a company spokesman.
Before starting, the workers shut off the gas, Mr. Slusark said. "We take every precaution possible to prevent something like this from happening."
He said the exact cause of the explosion was unclear. BG&E; investigators will work during the next couple of days to determine what caused the leak, he said.
Fire officials said that gas leaked in the meter room behind the apartment building. The utility workers were not injured.
Kyle E. Tippie, an off-duty Savage volunteer firefighter who lives near Dorsey's Forge apartments, said he was in his car at a nearby intersection when he heard "a loud explosion." He quickly went to the apartment building to see what happened and saw heavy black smoke.
As he and an unidentified man knocked on doors in search of people still in their apartments, Mr. Tippie said, they heard screams from a bottom-floor unit.
They ran outside and saw a woman in the window of the burning building.
"We removed the window screen and pulled the lady from the window," said Mr. Tippie, also a police officer for the U.S. Navy in FTC Bethesda. "She was hysterical. 'Just get me out,' " she said."
More than 60 firefighters arrived and brought the fire under control by 9:41 a.m., said Battalion Chief Donald R. Howell, county fire and rescue spokesman.
The building has been ruled uninhabitable because of fire, heat and smoke damage.
BG&E; shut off power to 180 customers in the Dorsey's Forge apartments following the explosion, but had restored it by about 7 p.m., a spokeswoman said.
The American Red Cross is assisting the families with emergency shelter, food and clothing.
Karen Gilliam, 27, said she was getting ready for work when she heard the sound of "hissing" and looked out her back window. The Celtrix lab technician said, "I remember thinking something's not right." When the explosion hit, "I felt the ground shaking, and we live on the second floor," she said.
Fire officials said it's amazing no one was killed, and credited Mr. Tippie and his unidentified helper for their quick action.
But Mr. Tippie said he was just doing his job. "I was just lucky. I left my house at the right time," he said.
"We lost a building but didn't lose lives. That's the important thing."