A natural gas leak apparently triggered an explosion and fire that ripped through a three-story motel Sunday morning, killing at least four people and forcing some guests to jump from the windows. The 5:30 a.m. blast blew out the middle front of the 62-unit, three-story Super 8 Motel off Interstate 70, throwing debris as far as 300 feet from the building, Fire Chief Gary Hawbaker said.
Hawbaker said there was a natural gas line in the middle of the fire, which hampered efforts to put it out. It took firefighters about 30 minutes to shut off the gas, he said.
Firefighters found the body of James G. Scharnek, 45, of Milwaukee, in a second-floor hallway of the motel, said Dr. Edward W. Ditto III, Washington County medical examiner.
The bodies of Kristoddie Brown, 25, of Capital Heights, and Mercy Keyes of Hagerstown were found in a third-floor room directly over the origin of the explosion, Ditto said. A fourth person, Marguerite Parker, believed to be in her 70s, was also killed, he said.
Firefighters used a crane to lift the charred remains of the building's center section to search for the missing woman, Ditto said.
The fire chief said some motel records were destroyed in the explosion and fire, so there was not a complete list of motel guests.
Ten people were treated at Washington County Hospital for smoke inhalation and minor injuries but were expected to be discharged by the end of the day, said hospital spokesman John Costopoulos.
Donald Lee, 39, of Shorewood, Wis., said he was sleeping when the explosion rattled the building.
"The headboard fell on me. It was fastened on with Velcro," Lee said. "Within seconds or minutes, the alarm went off and shortly after I heard screaming and glass breaking."
Lee said he got dressed and jumped from the second-story window, and broke his wrist in the 12- to 15-foot fall.
_ Information from Reuters was used in this report.