Updated on November 21, 2022, when investigators identified the person who died and to include more information on Montgomery County’s legislation to prevent gas lines from going into newly constructed buildings.
A fire and explosion at a condo building in Gaithersburg, Maryland killed one person and sent 12 others to the hospital. Two adults suffered critical injuries. Eight people, including four children, suffered mild to moderate injuries.
At about 8:40 AM on Wednesday, dispatchers received an influx of calls about an explosion at Potomac Oaks Condominium on Quince Orchard Boulevard. More than 100 firefighters responded to the scene. Before rescue crews arrived, maintenance workers used a painter’s ladder to help evacuate residents.
The 826 and 828 buildings withstood the most damage. The Montgomery County Fire Chief Scott Goldstein said crews could not search nine units due to dangerous conditions. One family in the 826 building was initially unaccounted for.
During an investigation of the explosion site on Thursday morning, a K-9 unit discovered a body among the debris. The person who died was identified as Juan Pablo Marshall Quizon (36). Quizon was a new homeowner at Potomac Oaks. Before the explosion happened, Quizon’s mother called 911 to report that her son was suicidal and had gone missing.
The Montgomery County Police Department opened a criminal investigation to determine the cause of the explosion. Police Chief Marcus Jones said in a press conference, “We don’t know that for sure. We have a lot of work to do. We are lacking other evidence.”
Investigators found a suicide note during an inspection of Quizon’s unit. Appliances in the unit will also be inspected to determine whether Quizon ignited gas before the explosion.
All 24 units in the four buildings that made up the complex are now uninhabitable. The Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services set up a shelter for displaced residents at the Activity Center at Bohrer Park near Gaithersburg High School. Montgomery Housing Partners (MHP) created a donation website to help support residents.
Did Natural Gas Cause the Gaithersburg Condo Explosion?
Several residents of Potomac Oaks reported smelling gas before the explosion. Washington Gas shut off gas service to the building before firefighters were able to put out the flames. In a statement, Goldstein said the blast started with a “gas-fed fire” in one of the building’s basements. Goldstein initially said that “natural gas is not a suspicion” but investigators are checking all units for gas leaks. Goldstein said that residents “should feel safe that fire rescue personnel have gone through those units and have checked those units and all common areas.”
In September, firefighters responded to a report of a gas leak at the 826 building. When they arrived, the call was determined to involve an appliance, so Washington Gas was not contacted. The resident who called was instructed to contact the appliance vendor or contractor about the issue.
There have been no maintenance work or issues reported by the property management company in the last two weeks. A the time of the explosion, contractors were working on steam and water pipes in a parking lot about 50 feet away from the building.
Montgomery County’s Long History of Catastrophic Explosions
Sadly, this is not the first time that a residential building exploded in Montgomery County. There have now been three catastrophic explosions at apartment or condo buildings since 2016.
In March 2022, 14 people were injured in a gas explosion at Friendly Garden Apartments in Silver Spring. The blast happened when a maintenance worker accidentally cut a gas line while doing plumbing work. And in August 2016, seven people died when a faulty piece of equipment caused an explosion at Flower Branch Apartments, also located in Silver Spring.
All three explosions happened at buildings that were at least 50 years old. The complex at Potomac Oaks was built around 1967, Friendly Garden Apartments was built in 1971, and Flower Branch in 1955. All residential properties but especially older buildings with outdated systems, need to have adequate fire protection to keep residents safe.
The Montgomery County Fire Department issued a warning that if anyone smells gas while inside a building, they should exit immediately and call 911.
Gas Safety Advocates Call for Legislation to Stop Putting Gas Lines in Homes
Just one day before the Gaithersburg explosion, The Montgomery County Council met to discuss Bill 13-22, which would require an all-electric code for newly constructed buildings. In that meeting, the Director for Governmental Affairs at Baltimore Gas and Electric argued that the proposed legislation would be “really risky” for the county’s infrastructure.
Several gas safety advocates released statements in favor of the all-electric legislation to protect Montgomery County residents from dangerous gas explosions. Joelle G. Novey, director for the local Interfaith Power & Light, wrote an opinion piece in The Washington Post and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) issued a press release calling for legislators to pass the bill.
Talk to an Experienced Explosion Lawyer
Pritzker Hageman is one of the few law firms in the country with experience representing families in explosion lawsuits. Our legal team has won hundreds of millions of dollars for burn injury clients and their families.