‘More and more unusual’: Tunnels, wiring, chemicals found at Bethesda house fire site

WASHINGTON — Investigators are still working to find what caused a house fire that killed a man in Bethesda earlier this month. But the investigation is far from routine after investigators found tunnels, chemicals and wiring in the basement.

“The conditions in the basement became more and more unusual as the investigation went on,” Montgomery County Fire Chief Dan Ogren said Tuesday in describing the site of the house fire on Danbury Road.

Firefighters responded at around 4:30 p.m. Sept. 10 to the house in the Maplewood neighborhood of Bethesda. They found smoke coming out of all three levels of the house.

Initially, investigators said hoarding conditions created a challenge in fighting the fire. Ogren said they discovered what he has heard described as tunnels under the home the following day.

Ogren could not go into more detail. Paul Starks, a spokesman for the Montgomery County police, called it an “excavation underneath the home.”

The tunnels or excavation did not impede the fight against the fire, but Ogren said an ignited gas line certainly did. Crews had to dig up the front yard of the home to access the line and stop the gas flow.

In addition to the tunnels, Ogren said, investigators found chemicals that could be misused, and other “equipment,” in the basement.

“We did have some electrical wiring and for lack of a better word, components. I’m not sure exactly what … they were in the area where we think the ignition source was,” he said.

In the death investigation, the police are waiting on information from the medical examiner to identify the man who died, Starks said. Meanwhile, Ogren said the wiring and some other items are being tested at the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms lab to aid in determining the cause and ignition source.

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