A huge explosion apparently caused by a large cache of ammonia nitrate pellets and chlorine exploded in a second story apartment at the Flower Branch Apartment complex [map], located in Silver Spring Maryland.
Maria Gonzales reported that she was on her way home to Baltimore, about three blocks away from the apartment when she heard a loud explosion followed by what she described as a “nose burning” smell of ammonia.
“I had just left the party and was on my way home when I heard a loud explosion. The smell of ammonia was horrible-it burned my nose,” said Maria.
The Washington Post reported that just after midnight on Wednesday, a massive explosion and fire leveled a Silver Spring apartment complex with a blast that could be felt a mile away, killing 2 people and injuring more than 30 people, including three firefighters, and forcing nearly 100 people from two buildings with some residents tossing their children from windows.
Authorities reported no fatalities, but rescue crews Thursday were still seeking to account for five to seven residents of the two adjacent buildings at the Flower Branch Apartments on Piney Branch Road. Authorities said there were 14 units in each building.
“People were dropping children and jumping out of other windows,” said Montgomery County Fire Chief Scott Goldstein. “Everybody was getting out of the building as rapidly as possible.”
Goldstein said during a briefing around 6:20 a.m. that a K-9 team searching the rubble of the apartment complex had a “hit” in a particular location. Goldstein said it could indicate someone is trapped in the location.
Maria claims she believes the explosion may have been caused by some middle eastern men that her friends and her observed unloading a barrel of “pool chlorine” from a van outside the apartment building earlier in the evening.
When asked how Maria was sure that what her friends and she had seen was a barrel of chlorine, Maria said that, “I have seen hundreds of those-there is no mistaking the warning label on the side of those big blue barrels.”
According to the Washington Post, Willie Morales, a resident of the apartment complex, was walking across Piney Branch Road from a chicken restaurant when he collapsed to the ground on his stomach in fear from the loudest explosion he ever heard.
“It was one big boom, like nothing I’d ever heard,” Morales said. When he decided it was safe to rise to his feet, he saw flames coming from the basement and first floor of the apartment building in front of him.
Those who fled the fire stood in grassy areas of nearby apartments and on sidewalks, and in bus shelters as parents held onto small children. Some onlookers took videos and pictures with their cell phones of the massive emergency response. A huge plume of gray smoke billowed from at least one burning building.
We asked Maria if she was sure if the men she observed unloading pool chlorine from a van were middle eastern, to which she stated that, “well it is not like I walked up and asked them where they from-they were dressed like middle eastern guys-towels around their heads-pajamas….”
This morning numerous speculations arose suggesting that the explosion may have been caused by a gas leak. Numerous comments concerning the explosion sprung up on social media and Discus comments, indicating that a gas leak at the “poorly maintained” apartment complex was reported earlier this week by apartment residents, however after inspection from a local gas company, the alleged gas leak was determined to had been incense burning in one of the apartments.
The explosion is not consistent with a gas explosion caused by a stove or furnace. The chances of a furnace being used during the summer months in Maryland is highly unlikely. The temperature in Silver Spring was 87 degrees at the time of the explosion.
Additionally, an explosion of the magnitude reported, having been caused by a gas stove or significant gas leak in a small apartment is also highly unlikely.
Apartments at the Flower Branch Apartments range from 535 to 830 square feet. In consideration of the fact that natural gas does not often explode at its upper explosive limit(UEL) several of the apartments in the complex would have had to ignite at the exact same moment to cause an explosion powerful enough to have been felt ‘a mile away‘ at the fire department, as was reported.
Most likely an explosion followed by a fire, would have been heard as several smaller explosions as gas ignited from one confined space to another.
The most interesting report that has come from this incident is the observance of two Middle Eastern men unloading a barrel of pool chlorine pellets from a van and the overwhelming smell of ammonia that burned Maria’s nose. Chlorine and Ammonia is highly explosive when mixed together. A mixture of as little as ten pounds of ammonia and chlorine pellets would have definitely caused the magnitude of the reported explosion.
An explosion of a mixture of ammonia nitrate and chlorine would explain the large “gray cloud of smoke” that was observed coming from the resulting fire. In consideration of the fact that it has not rained heavily in Silver Spring for several days and that the apartment complex, built in 1955, does not have a fire sprinkler system, the explanation of a bomb made with ammonia nitrate and chlorine exploding is the most likely reason a large gray cloud of smoke was initially observed after the explosion.
Another interesting fact that has arose from this incident is the fact that the Flower Branch Apartments does not have a pool. In fact, in checking other apartment complexes within the general vicinity of the Flower Branch Apartment complex, none of them offer a pool for their residents. It is very unlikely that any rational person or persons, would of stored a barrel of chlorine pellets in their apartment, when the chlorine could of been left in the van until it was taken to wherever it would be later used.
There is not enough information available at this time to determine if some terrorists blew themselves up attempting to build a bomb and or if the apartment complex was a terrorist target. However, the idea of terrorists blowing up an apartment buildings is not a new idea.
In 2001, Jose Padilla, at the urging of his al-Qaeda mentor, Padilla andBinyan Ahmed Muhammad agreed to undertake terrorist missions in the United States to blow up apartment buildings utilizing natural gas.
Padilla, along with Muhammad, received advanced explosives related training with instruction on electrical circuits, switches and timers, as well as how to seal an apartment filled with natural gas in such a way as to provide a maximum yield.
Adding an ammonia and chlorine bomb to set off an intentional gas leak would definitely cause the kind of explosion that was reported at the Flower Branch Apartment complex last night.
To add another twist to the story, several Tweets have surfaced indicating that agents for the Department of Homeland Security and Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms are “crawling all over the place” – at the scene. Finally, the Washington Post closed their comments on their article shortly after the social media started buzzing with the news of Federal agents investigating at the scene of the explosion.