Neighbors flee apartment explosion


A man described leading injured adults through smoke and carrying a baby he believed to be dead. Fortunately, the baby came back to life.

GAITHERSBURG, Md. — Multiple witnesses spoke to WUSA9 after a large explosion and fire in Gaithersburg on Wednesday morning sent at least 10 people to hospitals and displaced dozens from their homes.

Crews were called to the Potomac Oaks condominium complex in the 800 block of Quince Orchard Boulevard to a report of a possible fire and explosion around 8:40 a.m.

Several victims were trapped on upper floors and had to be rescued by a ladder or jumped out of windows. Montgomery County Fire and Fire Chief Scott Goldstein said none of the injuries were from fire or smoke inhalation, but could not say if they were from jumping , debris or general shock.

One resident, Melba Martinez, and her husband were on their way back to school, when they say they saw their neighbors’ houses literally explode.

“The fire spread within seconds,” Martinez said.

Her husband had to save one of their neighbors from the second floor of the burning building.

“He got him out of harm’s way, and the minute he did, everything fell apart after that,” Martinez said. “But, I’m in shock that this happened? I’ve never experienced this before.”

Linson Matute Mendez led three injured adults through blinding smoke, including a mother and her baby. He was carrying the child, whom he thought was already dead. Fortunately, the baby was able to be resuscitated in fresh air and was transported to hospital with his mother.

Linda Balmer is new to the neighborhood and had a dentist appointment just across the street when the incident happened.

“I heard an explosion, it sounded like someone had thrown a trash can,” Balmer said.

She couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw the plume of smoke.

“We got up and looked at some of the other windows and saw the building was on fire,” Balmer said.

RELATED: ‘Catastrophic explosion’ in Gaithersburg apartment injures at least 12 people

Martinez says she is now worried about her many neighbors who lost so much just before the holidays.

“Horrible to see that there are a lot of homeless people right now,” she said.

Investigators are still working to identify the exact cause of the fire. Two of the buildings are still too unstable to enter and search for other victims or survivors.

“There will be small pockets of hot material for several hours or maybe even a day or more to come,” Goldstein said.

RELATED: How to help displaced families after ‘catastrophic explosion’ at Gaithersburg apartment

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