Follow-up: More Than Three Dozen Displaced by Pike Street Fire

Thursday’s explosion, which fire marshals have attributed to incorrect use of an inordinately large amount of aerosol insecticide, has rendered 34 adults and seven children homeless.

The scene on Pike Street on July 11.
The scene on Pike Street on July 11.

The Red Cross, Council member Margaret Chin’s office and Asian Americans for Equality, a community group, have been working to find temporary housing for the 17 or so families, who have been staying in a hotel in Brooklyn since the fire last week, which sent eight civilians and four firefighters to the hospital with injuries. While the city’s Housing Preservation and Development office normally steps in to offer longer-term temporary housing, the process has been hindered by a vacate order slapped on the six-story walkup building by the Department of Buildings, which prevents any of the residents from returning home to collect the various documents required to sign up for HPD housing, according to Chin’s office.

Further complicating matters are the facts that many residents speak only Fujianese, a Chinese dialect in which city forms are not readily available in translation, as well as changing counts of exactly how many residents lived there. Authorities have said the building appeared to have been subdivided into multiple partitioned spaces that were not sanctioned by city codes.

The building department’s vacate order cites “damage by bug bomb explosion and compromised egress” and “illegal work without a permit.”

Investigators have said the fire was caused by a tenant in a first-floor apartment setting off 40 aerosol cans of insecticide in one small space over the course of two days, while failing to extinguish the pilot light on a stove, which ignited the highly flammable substance. (Read The New York Times‘ detailed report about the bug bombs, including an interview with Timothy Wong of the LES business M&M Pest Control, here.)

The explosion, which happened about 12:45 p.m. Thursday, caused a partial collapse of the building and drew a storm of  fire and emergency personnel who rescued residents from upper floors using ladder trucks. It’s unclear when residents might be allowed to return home to collect their belongings, a representative with Chin’s office said. Advocates are working to have their hotel stay funded for a few more days, until another solution can be found.