Improperly installed natural gas dryer causes home explosion in North Bethesda

2011-5-5

Ned Mihaylov was sitting in his basement when an explosion shook his Randolph Hills home around 3 a.m. today.

After checking on his family, Nihaylov went outside to find the house next door engulfed in flames. One of his neighbors, a woman he met less than 24 hours before and whose name he didn't know, was lying in her backyard, burned and gasping for air.

"She just kept saying ‘I can't breathe, help me'," he said.

A man neighbors belived to be her husband was wandering through the wreckage and calling for help, said Mihaylov, who believed the two moved into the house over the weekend.

Their home - listed on state property records as a rental property - is a pile of rubble and debris, spread across lawns, roofs and roads more than a block away after an improperly installed natural gas dryer caused the residence in the 11200 block of Ashley Drive, in North Bethesda's Randolph Hills neighborhood, to explode early this morning. The incident caused $750,000 in damage to the residence, which was completely destroyed, and to two neighoring homes, according to a statement by Fire and Rescue Asst. Chief Scott Graham.

"I've never seen anything like this," Fire and Resce Capt. Oscar Garcia said. "This house is completely unrecognizable as a structure."

Both victims were hospitalized, the woman with serious, life-threatening injuries and the man with serious injuries, according to Graham. Fire and Rescue could not confirm the relationship between the two.

About 75 fire and rescue responders arrived at the home shortly before 3 a.m. and remained on scene for about an hour and a half. Fire and explosive investigators remained on site for an additional eight hours. Pepco and Washington Gas assisted with the investigation, a standard procedure for an explosion of this magnitude, Garcia said.

Neighbors believed the house was unoccupied when the explosion occurred.

Mirela Mihaylova, Ned's sister, said she and her family had welcomed the couple to the neighborhood Tuesday after watching them move in over the weekend.

"They were nice people, but we didn't talk much," she said. "I thought we'd have time to meet them."

Matthew Tifford, who lives a block away from the house, said he, too, was jarred awake by the explosion. He said when he looked up the street and saw where it had originated he was temporarily relieved, believing the house to be unoccupied.

"I thought ‘thank god it was the empty house," he said.

Monday, a Dumfries, Va., home blew up, injuring the owner. Prince William County authorities suspect a gas leak caused the explosion.

Graham and Washington Gas spokesman Ruben Rodriguez reminded homeowners with natural gas in their residences to hire a licensed professional to install gas appliances and to have pipes inspected annually.

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