SILVER SPRING — Flower Branch tenant Felicia Prospere said she can still remember the cries and screams from the fire and explosion that killed seven at the Silver Spring apartment complex last August.
“As soon as I opened – my husband opened the door – I just saw flames – big flames, people crying and screaming, people, you know, letting kids out of the windows, out of the balcony, people just crying for help,” Prospere said. “I couldn’t help them, all I could do was run to save my own life.”
On Aug. 10, the first anniversary of the fire at the Flower Branch Apartments complex located on Arliss Street in Silver Spring, tenants and community members gathered for a candlelight vigil to remember the sudden death and destruction from one year ago. Faith leaders, tenants, activists and politicians were present to remember the tenants that died in the fire: Fernando Jose Hernandez Orellana, 3, Deibi “David” Samir Lainez Morales, 8, Aseged Mekonen, 34, Saeda Ibrahim Deibi Samir, 41, Maria Auxiliadorai Castellon-Martinez, 53, Augusto Jimenez Sr., 62 and Saul Paniagua, 65.
Gustavo Torres, executive director of the immigrant advocacy group CASA, read the names and ages of each of the victims aloud where the crowd chanted in unison “presente” to represent that the victims are still with the community in spirit.
Torres spoke on behalf of the immigrant community who largely makes up most of the tenants at the lower-income apartments at Flower Branch, saying the community is rededicated to achieving “justice.”
“We want to let you know that we are not going to forget you and we are going to keep fighting until we bring justice,” Torres said.
After an hour-long ceremony, people walked around the formerlycratered building on Arliss Street holding candles as a band softly played a Spanish language version of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” Father Erick Lopez of Saint Camillus Church and Pastor Gary Nuss of Saint Luke Lutheran Church read from scripture and conducted prayer in memory of the victims.
For the last year, the Long Branch community has slowly tried to pick up the pieces after one of the worst disasters in the County’s recent history.
At about 11:50 p.m. on Aug. 10, 2016, Montgomery County Fire and Rescue responded to a call at the Flower Branch Apartments. What they saw was a partially-collapsed apartment building, caved in by an explosion and extreme heat, and heard the screams of people fleeing for their lives. A report from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive determined that the fire was “gas fed” and started in the meter room below the building on 8701 Arliss Street.
The ATF investigators did not say what caused the fire, instead leaving the long-form investigation to the National Traffic Safety Board, which is scheduled to release a report this month with their conclusions on what caused the fire.
Former Flower Branch tenant Marco Ramirez said he moved away from Flower Branch after the fire, explaining that he feared for his and his family’s safety. For a week after the fire, Ramirez said he would lie awake on a sofa watching television with the lights on