‘The devastation is not just the house’: Neighbors speak on Sterling explosion that killed firefighter

Sterling explosion
Debris is scattered across Silver Ridge Drive neighborhood after a house exploded Friday night, killing a firefighter and injuring 10 others. (WTOP/Luke Lukert)
Sterling explosion
Much like the debris, the impact of the blast itself reached neighbors. (WTOP/Luke Lukert)
Sterling explosion
Insulation from the house that exploded made its way to other neighbors’ yards. (WTOP/Luke Lukert)
Sterling explosion
The two occupants of the house were treated for minor injuries and have been released. (WTOP/Luke Lukert)
Sterling explosion
Sterling explosion
Sterling explosion
Sterling explosion

A chimney is the only part left standing of a house on Silver Ridge Drive in Sterling, Virginia, where a home explosion killed a volunteer firefighter and injured 10 other first responders Friday night.

On Saturday morning, scraps of insulation and wood framing were still strewn about the block.

Much like the debris, the impact of the blast itself reached neighbors. Chris Voloshin, who lives six houses down the street from the home that exploded, said “it felt like the house was falling down on” him and his family.

“We walked around the corner and we saw the house all in flames,” he told WTOP, adding that the insulation made its way to his yard. “Couldn’t believe that that’s what we heard and that’s what we felt.”

Ron Milligan lives about three-quarters of a mile from the house that exploded, but said the blast woke him up.

“I bolted upright, not sure what to do,” he said.

Another neighbor, Susan Sheridan, was in the kitchen when the blast happened. She said the ground shook like there was an earthquake, but “the noise was what was really astonishing.”

“I’ve never heard a bomb, but I imagine that’s what they sound like,” she said.

A leaking propane tank

Firefighters first got to the scene around 7:40 p.m. Friday, after receiving calls about a gas leak that could be smelled across the neighborhood, Fire Systems Chief Keith Johnson said at a news conference Saturday morning.

Sheridan said she never smelled the gas leak. However, she said she knew the community member who called the fire department about the gas odor, and noted that crews were checking the neighborhood for “an hour or more” before isolating the origin.

The fire department’s investigation is ongoing, but Johnson said he believes the explosion was related to a 500-gallon underground propane tank that crews found leaking into the home.

The explosion happened around 8:25 p.m., Johnson said.

“Luckily, the two occupants of the home were removed by firefighters upon our arrival, as well as some of the pets,” Johnson said. “We can credit our firefighters for the removal of those citizens.”

Johnson said it was “somewhat chaotic” as the department tried to track down all the injured firefighters, figuring out how many were trapped under debris. All units were accounted for and receiving medical care by around 9:15 p.m.

‘The devastation is not just the house’

(Courtesy, Loudoun County Fire and Rescue)

The explosion claimed the life of 45-year-old Trevor Brown, who had been with the Sterling Volunteer Fire Company since 2016. He leaves behind a wife and three children, Johnson said.

A total of 10 other first responders were taken to local hospitals, including two Loudoun County career firefighters, seven Sterling volunteer firefighters and one Fairfax County firefighter. The two occupants of the house were treated for minor injuries and have been released.

“I just feel horrible for the people that own this and I feel horrible for the fireman that lost his life trying to find out what the problem was,” Milligan said. “I mean, the devastation is not just the house.”

Brown’s death is a heartbreaking loss, Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall told WTOP.

“It’s devastating to the (volunteer fire) company, to the entire system and quite frankly to the entire county, but most importantly to his family, his wife and his children,” Randall said.

Funeral arrangements are in the hands of the Brown family.

Randall said the community has come together to offer support to the four firefighters who remain hospitalized.

“Right now we are told that they have a long road back and it will be very hard, so they need a lot of support from everyone in the county,” Randall said.

“The homeowner is also a victim. This happened not because of her, but to her, and she has completely lost her home, pets and all of her worldly possessions,” Randall added.

A GoFundMe page has been established by friends of Kelley Woods, the homeowner whose house and belongings were destroyed in the explosion.

WTOP’s Kate Corliss and Dick Uliano contributed to this report.

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Luke Lukert

Since joining WTOP Luke Lukert has held just about every job in the newsroom from producer to web writer and now he works as a full-time reporter. He is an avid fan of UGA football. Go Dawgs!

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