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'Bug Bomb' Building Had Illegal Dividing Walls and Gas Lines: Investigators

 Just after midday on Thursday 'bug bombs' at 17 Pike Street exploded, causing a fire.
'Bug Bomb' Fire Aftermath
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CHINATOWN — The building where as many as 20 "bug bombs" exploded on Thursday, igniting a blaze and injuring eight people, was hit with violations for illegal partition walls inside apartments as well as illegal plumbing and gas lines, officials said.

The Department of Buildings issued a vacate order for the 17 Pike St. building until owners Tom and Mary Shiu remove the partitions found on all four residential floors and fix the illegal plumbing and gas lines, a DOB spokeswoman said Friday.

Three people were critically hurt in the 12:50 p.m. blast, which occurred when a stove's pilot light caused one of the pesticide canisters to ignite inside the Piao Liang Ren Sheng Beauty Salon on the building's first floor, the FDNY confirmed Friday. The other canisters, designed to kill cockroaches and other insects, then exploded in succession, with so much force that part of the building's rear section collapsed, officials said.

Outside the building on Friday morning, Tom Shiu denied that it had a bug problem and said he hadn't known about the pesticides stored there.

"Bugs, no. Rats, yes." Shiu said. "But already terminated them."

He also denied any issues with the plumbing and gas lines, and blamed the building's tenants for installing the illegal walls to subdivide their apartments.

"We tell them [the illegal walls are] not allowed," said Shiu, 66, who splits his time between an apartment at 17 Pike St. and a home in New Jersey. "Every time they take it out, they put it back in again."

Shiu added that he did not know who many of the tenants were, since tenants often sublease part or all of their apartments to others. Rent for the 18 units, which were all built as one-bedrooms, ranges from about $300 per month for a rent-stabilized apartment to about $1,500 per month for a market-rate apartment.

Following Thursday's blast, tenants accused Shiu of not making repairs to a building they described as infested.

"There were always plenty of cockroaches," said one 39-year-old tenant, who declined to give his name. "About the size of a penny."

As of Friday, 10 households — 28 adults and three children — had registered with the Red Cross, which is providing emergency housing, a spokesman said.

This isn't the first time 17 Pike St. has been vacated. In 2009, all residents were forced to leave for three months when the Department of Buildings found a rotting floor joist and a lack of fire-stopping materials, a spokeswoman said.

It was not immediately clear how long repairs to the building would take before tenants would be allowed back in this time.