Leaking Underground Propane Tank Found At Virginia Home Before Deadly House Explosion

Neighborhood residents watch as first responders arrive at the scene after an explosion at a home, late Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, in Sterling, Va. (Nicki Jhabvala/The Washington Post via AP)
Neighborhood residents watch as first responders arrive at the scene after an explosion at a home, late Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, in Sterling, Va. (Nicki Jhabvala/The Washington Post via AP)
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STERLING, Va. (AP) — When firefighters arrived at a home in a Washington, D.C., suburb to investigate a report about a gas smell Friday night, they discovered a 500-gallon underground propane tank with a leak on the side of the residence.

Shortly after they arrived, the house exploded and burst into flames, with multiple mayday calls coming from the firefighters trapped inside. Crews rushed in to try to rescue them from the debris that covered them, but one firefighter was killed and 10 others were injured, Loudoun County Fire and Rescue officials said Saturday.

Four of the firefighters hurt in the blast remained in hospitals Saturday morning, according Loudoun Fire and Rescue System Chief Keith Johnson.

Johnson said all four are expected to survive. A total of 11 first responders were sent to hospitals with “varying degrees of injuries” Friday night, including the one who died.

He was identified as 45-year-old Trevor Brown, a volunteer with Sterling Volunteer Fire Company. Brown was married with three children and had been with the county firefighting services since 2016, Johnson said.

“We lost a family member," Johnson said Saturday. "We lost one of our own. Quite frankly we’re lucky we only have one fatality. Our folks were in that house when it exploded. They did what they had to do.”

Johnson said investigators have not determined the cause of the explosion, but “we can assume it was propane-related.” He said the 500-gallon tank, located outside the house, had leaked the fuel into the house.

Two people inside the house were escorted out before the explosion and suffered only minor injuries from the blast. They were treated at local hospitals, Johnson said.

Firefighters who responded to investigate the gas smell went inside the house to check for occupants and attempt to mitigate any leaks, he said. A hazardous materials team had also been called to the scene.

The explosion occurred around 8:25 p.m., about 37 minutes after firefighters arrived to investigate the gas smell, Johnson said. After the blast, there were multiple mayday calls for firefighters trapped in the home, he said. All firefighters were accounted for and receiving care by 9:15 p.m., Johnson said.

“It was somewhat chaotic as we tried to figure out how many firefighters were trapped under the debris," he said.

James Williams, assistant chief of operations, described damage to the home in Sterling as “total devastation.”

“There’s a debris field well into the street and into the neighboring homes,” he said Friday night.

Sterling is located about 22 miles (35 kilometers) northwest of Washington, D.C.

A neighbor, John Padgett, told ABC7 News that he had smelled gas while walking his dog earlier.

The blast shook his home, he said.

“It looked like an inferno,” and insulation from the burning home fell like ash, he added. “It was horrific; it looked like something out of a war zone.”

Brown's body was taken to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner to determine the cause and manner of death.