Mystery Continues To Surround Bethesda House Fire Where Young Man Was Found Dead
County has ordered property owner to demolish house where underground tunnels were discovered
Firefighters work at the scene of a house fire on Danbury Road in Bethesda last year
Via Daniel Ogren (Twitter)
Montgomery County officials have ordered the property owner to demolish the Bethesda home where 21-year-old Askia Khafra was found dead after a fire last year as questions continue to swirl about what caused the blaze and Khafra’s death.
Bruce Goldfarb, a spokesman for the state Office of Chief Medical Examiner, said Monday the cause and manner of Khafra’s death remains under investigation.
Khafra of Silver Spring was found dead Sept. 10 inside the home on the 5200 block of Danbury Road after county firefighters extinguished a blaze that tore through the property. Daniel Beckwitt , a 31-year-old resident of the home, escaped with minor injuries.
Firefighters and police at the scene discovered excavated tunnels below the home. Khafra’s father, Dia Khafra, has said he believes his son had been involved in the excavation. Pictures from Askia Khafra’s Facebook page appeared to show him inside part of the excavated tunnels.
County officials have not said why the excavation may have been taking place.
Montgomery County spokesman Patrick Lacefield wrote in emails to Bethesda Beat earlier this month that police have interviewed the home owner, David Beckwitt, Daniel’s father, and he has provided information that can’t be discussed because of the ongoing investigation.
Lacefield also wrote that firefighters entered portions of the excavated area, but found the tunnels to be “unsafe confined spaces.” The county’s demolition order requires the tunnels beneath the home to be fully delineated and remediated, according to Lacefield.
A copy of the county’s Dec. 6 demolition order obtained by WUSA9’s Bruce Leshan warns of public health risks—including the potential that the damaged home will collapse from the underground excavation.
“The collapse risk, hoarding conditions, saturated materials within the home, accumulation of human excrement and hazardous materials in the building, collectively and individually are significant concerns to the public health, safety and welfare,” the order reads.
The order was sent to David and Daniel Beckwitt. Bethesda Beat has been unable to contact either man. David Beckwitt is listed as the owner of the home in Maryland property records.
At the end of January, county public safety officials held a community meeting in the Bethesda neighborhood to update local residents on the status of their investigation. At the meeting, Dia Khafra said the information they were presenting about the circumstances surrounding the fire had been “sanitized,” according to a Fox5 report.
“It was my son that was burned to death at that home,” Khafra said. “I’m very emotional because of the things you are all presenting, to me, has been sanitized. I came here because I wanted people to know what was going on here. This thing is far more extensive and complicated than people here believe.”
Khafra has not returned calls from Bethesda Beat seeking comment over the past week.
Fire officials told those at the meeting that they hadn’t fully explored the tunnels, but did not believe the home is a danger to nearby residents, according to Fox5.
Lacefield wrote in an email that there is no information to suggest that the tunnels extend under neighboring properties.
The demolition order notes the excavation presents collapse risks for the public right-of-way in front of the property and could affect nearby utilities. It requires the property owner to obtain a demolition permit from the county and hire a professional demolition crew to take down the home.