Report: Washington Gas had funds, direction to fix what led to deadly Md. fire

Crews with canine unit focus on a corner of the Flower Branch apartments in Silver Spring, Maryland. An explosion and fire tore through the apartment complex in the late night hours of Aug. 10, 2016. Seven people died in the 2016 blast, police said. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)

Washington Gas had both the funds and the direction to fix what caused a deadly apartment fire that killed seven people, according to a new filing by its governing body. Now, three years after the fire, the Maryland Public Service Commission wants the utility to answer for its perceived inaction.

Months after the Maryland Public Service Commission approved more than $650,000 for Washington Gas to fix failing equipment — a gas explosion caused by that failing equipment killed seven people and injured more than 60 in Takoma Park, Maryland.

The National Transportation Safety Board found that the August 2016 explosion was caused when a failing mercury service regulator not connected to a vent line allowed natural gas to build up and ignite. The NTSB said Washington Gas was responsible for making sure that vent line was connected.

In a filing obtained by WTOP, the PSC said the utility pledged in 2003 to replace nearly 67,000 mercury regulators in 10 years.

“The subsequent record … does not reveal how or whether the company took any steps to remove mercury service regulators pursuant to its 10-year plan, which should have been completed in 2013,” the filing stated.

In addition to explaining how it is planning to accomplish the five recommendations from the NTSB, Maryland’s Public Services Commission wants Washington Gas to provide evidence regarding the execution of its 10-year program to remove all indoor mercury service regulators by 2013, according to the filing. PSC wants a response in 30 days from Washington Gas and is considering fining the utility.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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