County hears more on fatal fire

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Silver Spring fire 8-11-16An internal audit was held on the County's response to the Flower Branch Apartments fire that killed seven and displaced over 100 people last August. FILE PHOTO  

During their internal audit about the County’s response to the fire at Flower Branch Apartments in Silver Spring that killed seven and displaced more than 100 people last August, County officials did not interview victims from the fire.

At last week’s council meeting, officials from several County agencies briefed the Council on an internal audit of the County’s response in providing services in the immediate aftermath of the fire. The audit listed several recommendations for the County, including a need for better communication between County staff.

Council member Tom Hucker (D-5) said the audit was disappointing and criticized County officials for not interviewing the victims of the fire who received the County’s services.

“It seems strange to me, as an approach, that you would just talk to County agencies and the non-profits we fund, but not the actual victims,” Hucker said.


Metro follies, elections top Montgomery 2016 stories

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Metro fireA fire in a subway tunnel was just one of the challenges Metro endured as it dealt with derailments, shutdowns and firings. FILE PHOTO  

With Metro shutting down, voters backing term limits, an explosion killing seven people at an apartment complex, racist and anti-Semitic graffiti popping out throughout the county, and a Sentinel investigation revealing problems with local water infrastructure, 2016 will certainly be a year to remember in Montgomery County.

Meanwhile in Prince George’s County, 2016 featured a new hospital is on the way, a delay for a much anticipated mode of travel, two new council seats, and tumultuous times for the county school system.

And The Sentinel was there to see it all. Here are the stories of 2016, from where we sit.


Flower Branch still faces multiple safety problems

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While Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett (D) signed a bill to protect tenants’ rights into law Monday, housing code violations still plague some of the County’s lower end housing.

The County Council passed Bill 19-15 unanimously on Nov. 29 and is requiring the Department of Housing and Community Affairs (DHCA) to conduct annual inspections of rental properties in the County.

But as the Leggett signed Bill 19-15 into law, conditions for many in the County have not improved.


Holiday cheer missing as CASA helps those without this season

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holiday party groceriesBags of groceries were made available at a holiday party for local apartment residents at the Pine Ridge Community Center. PHOTO BY SUZANNE POLLAK  

More than 250 residents from several apartment complexes on Piney Branch Road in Silver Spring waited patiently as they stood in line Saturday night to receive a hot dinner and a large bag of groceries to take home.

CASA hosted a holiday party at its Pine Ridge Community Center on Piney Branch Road, which featured music and a bonfire in the parking lot and wall-to-wall people inside waiting to give their names and addresses so that they could receive a bag of food overflowing with potatoes and green vegetables. The food was donated by Priority Partners and area food banks.

There was little room for mingling and even less holiday cheer as attendees snaked around rooms, into hallways and around the bags of food until it was their turn.

It’s been a rough few months for many of them, especially since the explosion and fire at Flower Branch Apartments. Seven of their neighbors lost their lives, and another 100 saw their homes and belongings destroyed.


Flower Branch residents issue a cry for help

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SILVER SPRING – From the day she moved into her Flower Branch apartment in June 2014, Blanca Morales says she has lived in a rodent-infested apartment.

On the first night in her new apartment, located along Piney Road, Blanca said she could hear the sounds of small animals running through her apartment.

The next day in her bathroom, she saw mice up close.

“I saw that there were mice running through my feet and I screamed,” Morales said. “And I realized that there were mice.”

About four months after a fire killed seven people and displaced about 100 others at Flower Branch, poor living conditions that have plagued tenants at the apartment complex for years still remain an issue.


"A Serious Problem"

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Hundreds of violations found in apartment complex that burned in August

Silver Spring fire 8-11-16This fire in August led to the loss of seven lives in Silver Spring.  FILE PHOTO  

SILVER SPRING - Nearly three months to the day after a fire at the Flower Branch Apartments cost the lives of seven residents, county housing inspectors found 860 housing code violations in 362 units.

“There’s no excuse for these code violations and for the number of citations that have been issued, obviously, and they need to be corrected immediately. I’m really disappointed,” said County Council President Nancy Floreen (D-At large).

The Nov. 9 inspection by the Department of Housing and Community Affairs (DHCA) revealed some of the same housing code violations the apartment complex had when it was last inspected in 2013, including 31 cases of infestations by mice, rats, roaches or bedbugs.


"This...Is About Justice"

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Flower Branch residents file suit after apartment fire claims seven lives

WASHINGTON – With chants of “justice” and “yes we can,” Flower Branch Apartments tenants announced Wednesday they filed two lawsuits against Washington Gas and Kay Management after a fire killed seven people and displaced about 100 others.

The Silver Spring tenants spoke outside the office of WGL Energy, which owns Washington Gas. The law firms Bailey and Glasser, LLC and Gupta Wessler, PLLC are representing the tenants.

 “Seven people died but no one is saying who is responsible for this. Neither the state, the county nor the federal government has stepped forward to the victims to give them the answers they are entitled to,” said Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA an immigrant advocacy organization.


Former tenants claim harsh living conditions in apartment complex that blew up

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The fire that killed seven and displaced around 100 people at Flower Branch Apartments exposed the harsh living conditions many of the tenants lived with for years, according to some tenants.

Tenants at the apartment complex located on Piney Branch Road in Silver Spring said their apartments are infested with of cockroaches, mice and bedbugs and they regularly deal with “abusive management.”


Language barriers found in wake of fatal fire

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Silver Spring fire 8-11-16County Council members were briefed on language barriers that hampered firefighters and other personnel during the fire at the Flower Branch Apartments. FILE PHOTO

A County review of the aftermath from a gas-fed fire that killed seven at the Flower Branch Apartments in Silver Spring revealed a language barrier between County officials and tenants.

Many of the tenants are immigrants from Latin America who spoke Spanish as their primary language. They had trouble communicating with firefighters and other County personnel in the immediate aftermath and days following the fire.

Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger, Fire Chief Scott Goldstein, Director of the Montgomery County Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, Earl Stoddard and the Chief Administrative Officer for Montgomery County, Tim Firestine briefed County Council members Sept. 27.

“That’s a gap, that ought to be addressed,” said Council member Tom Hucker (D-5) about the language barrier between County staff and the victims of the fire.

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