‘Shook it like an earthquake:’ Witnesses, residents describe Montgomery Co. apartment fire

“I thought it was like a dream,” Holly Tezera, 13, said, describing how she and her family got out after a fire ripped through their Montgomery County, Maryland, apartment building Thursday morning.

Ten people have been taken to local hospitals, several others are still unaccounted for, and three buildings have been declared unsafe after an explosion, fire and building collapse at the Friendly Garden Apartments on Lyttonsville Road in Silver Spring around 10:30 a.m. That building, as well as two others in the complex, have been declared unsafe.

Tezera’s father was asleep when she heard the explosion and she quickly woke him up. As they fled the burning building, Tezera said her uncle picked her up when she fell while trying to escape.

Mebratu Wodajo worked the night before and was asleep when his daughter woke him up.

“Everything was destroyed. I don’t know how we got out of the building,” he said.

His family had been living at the apartment for four years and said there were not many issues, describing it as a “peaceful” place.

One resident told WTOP’s Mike Murillo that he wasn’t home at the time, but that his mother had gotten out all right. She was standing with the maintenance guy when he found her.

“There’s people we knew in that building,” he added. “They would help my mom with the trash because she can’t get up the way she used to.”

The explosion was felt within the neighborhood.

John Bell lives in another apartment complex and was watching TV when he felt a big shake. “It shook it like an earthquake.”

Bell said he saw a woman who came from the apartment wearing shorts, no socks or coat. He gave her an old coat, slippers and socks because it was very windy. WTOP’s Megan Cloherty said the winds picked up some fires that had been kind of burning or glowing during the day.

Andre Kenard told Murillo he was in his workshop at the time. “I can hear the sound, and I can feel the boom on my back.” He said his son, an Army veteran, “swung into action. He ran over there, got a lady and a child out, then he ran around back — against my wishes — but he went around back and he pulled another lady out … she was more in shock.”

“I just heard a loud boom by my window,” neighbor Akosua Safo told Cloherty. When she went outside to investigate, she saw her cousin “just like screaming and like, ‘Come down the stairs.’”

She and her cousin ran over the building that was on fire, screaming the name of her cousin’s aunt, who lived there.

Safo said she saw a woman in a broken window with a comforter wrapped around her, “screaming, like, ‘Please help me out.’” A man showed up to help her out of the building — “thankfully … She was actually ready to jump out.”

She saw a woman coming out on a stretcher with burns. While the fire and explosion may have damaged neighboring building, “I don’t know what happened to my possessions. But I honestly don’t even care. I’m just really hoping no one died.”

Cloherty said the complex housed a lot of immigrant families with multiple members crossing generations. Safo told her she had lived there for 16 years; others had been there for more than a decade.

WTOP’s Mike Murillo and Megan Cloherty contributed to this reporting. 

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Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2013 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He's the author of "A Walking Tour of the Georgetown Set" and "I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival."

Abigail Constantino

Abigail Constantino started her journalism career writing for a local newspaper in Fairfax County, Virginia. She is a graduate of American University and The George Washington University.

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