(Twitter @mcfrsPIO, Facebook/Paul Ricci)

A house in Montgomery County was leveled early Friday in an explosion that was heard miles away, and by evening officials said they still had not been able to find the man who had lived there.

“We had a full and total destruction of the house,” Montgomery Fire Chief Scott Goldstein said Friday afternoon, standing near a rubble pile that had once been a 1,000 square foot home in the Randolph Hills community, which is in the North Bethesda area.

It was not immediately clear what caused the explosion, but officials said that Washington Gas had turned off gas to the home in June 2015. Then, starting in December 2016, the utility company had noticed unauthorized use of gas in the home, Goldstein and Washington Gas officials said.

Officials said the home may have been in foreclosure, with an action scheduled for the end of this week. “We believe it was a bank sale,” Goldstein said.

Goldstein and others did not identify the person who had lived there, and officials said they did not know for certain when the man was last in the house. Neighbors said the man lived alone, and one said he worked as a plumber.

The blast erupted just before 1 a.m. along the 11400 block of Ashley Drive. Debris was spread as far as 600 yards from the home. Nine other houses were damaged, as were nine cars. No one was injured outside the home, officials said.

A cadaver-sniffing dog had indicated there might be remains at the site. Rescue workers conducted a painstaking search, going layer by layer through the rubble, officials said

Goldstein said people throughout the upper Bethesda and Kensington areas, which are several miles away, called 911 to report hearing and feeling the explosion.

Cheryl Rice, who lives across the street, said she, her husband and their son awoke to the sound of “an immediate, big, big explosion.”

“We used to live in California, so we know what an earthquake is like, but it was worse,” Rice said. “The whole house shook like crazy.”

Rice said that because it was nighttime the family initially couldn’t see what had happened. Then, she said, “our eyes focused, and we said, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s no house over there.’ ”

She said they called 911, then went outside. That is when they saw a “little bit of orange” from flames, she said, and then “it really, really caught on fire.”


Firefighters said a house in the North Bethesda area was leveled after an explosion. (Courtesy of Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service)

Rice said she had not seen much of the man who lived in the home over the last year. She said he would come and cut the grass, then leave. She described him as a tinkerer and said that years ago he sharpened some lawn mower blades for her and she ended up giving him the lawn mower. She said the man adopted greyhounds that had been rescued.

Alan Breon, who lives next door to the home that exploded, said the home’s occupant lived alone and worked as a plumber.

Breon, who said he has lived on the street since 1959, described his neighbor as friendly and got choked up talking about him. “When a tree limb came down, he helped,” Breon said of the neighbor. “In a storm, he was always there.”

He said that after the blast, he went outside and “was in shock,” to see flames.

As he recalled the incident later in the morning, Breon looked outside his windows, four of which had been blown out. Insulation littered the yard and street. The debris, Breon said, makes it “look like a haunted movie.”

On Friday, as Rice looked out her front door at the explosion site, she said, “I hope he’s not there.”


The scene of a house explosion on Ashley Drive in Montgomery County. (Dan Morse/The Washington Post)