Investigation continues into Howard Co. gas explosion

The Lakeside Office Building, in Columbia, Maryland, the day after a natural gas explosion. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

Investigators are continuing to look into what caused the gas explosion at an office building in Howard County, Maryland, on Sunday morning, and are still assessing the damage.

The front of the Lakeside Office Building, on Stanford Boulevard in Columbia, collapsed after a gas explosion at about 8 a.m. Sunday, about a half-hour after the fire department got a call about a crater in the road that was emitting gas.

The Lakeside Shopping Center blast damage on the Stanford Boulevard side as you head to the parking lot. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

No injuries have been reported; the fire department evacuated other area businesses before the explosion.

At a news conference Monday morning, Howard County Fire and Rescue Services Deputy Fire Chief John Jerome provided a few more details about the incident: At about 7 a.m., the fire department responded to an automated general alarm at the building. They found a crack in the front parking lot and heard an apparent gas leak.

Fire crews then went into the building and found “dangerous concentrations of natural gas” inside, Jerome said. After a “quick and hasty search” for anyone inside, the fire personnel got out, isolated the area with the help of police and awaited a shut off from BG&E.

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball speaks on Monday at the site of the gas explosion in Columbia, Maryland. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

At this point, Jerome said, the department is still conducting “an active investigation into the cause.”

Aaron Koos, a spokesman for BG&E, said the utility “cannot speculate on the possible causes yet,” adding that there is still equipment they haven’t been able to get in and examine.

He said that no one in the building had made any calls about possible gas leaks in the previous year.

In February 2018, Koos said, the gas company was called for a potential problem at a restaurant in the building that turned out to be “a customer appliance issue.”

Koos added that the gas mains in the area were tested last month and that no problems were found at the time. A piece of undamaged pipe from the building was pressure-tested Sunday and passed, he said.

The gas spokesman added that they’ll know more when they can get into the building, and that the company is “committed to understanding what occurred.”

Bob Frances, director of Howard County’s Office of Inspection, Licenses and Permits, said his staff and the building’s owner are still reviewing the damage, with the help of the original structural drawings.

“A good portion of [the damage] is cosmetic,” not load-bearing, Frances said, but neither he nor Jerome could provide a timetable for when the building would be safe for businesses to return.

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball said that the county is “experienced in dealing with challenges … we know how to come together.” He added that he was relatively thankful that “it happened on a Sunday morning,” with relatively few people around.

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2012 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He went to George Washington University as an undergraduate and is regularly surprised at the changes to the city since that faraway time.

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