Bug bombs blamed in Chinatown explosion, fire

July 12, 2013 3:33:35 PM PDT
Twelve people were injured in a fire caused by an apparent explosion in a Chinatown building.

The street was still blocked off on Pike Street in Chinatown Thursday night, after a horrific explosion and fire in the afternoon.

Some residents had to be plucked from the upper floors of the building, unconscious and overcome with smoke, trapped in their homes.

"It was a very loud band, an explosion and I know it woke me up out of my sleep," said Hector Martinez, a witness.

"Oh, man there was like 10 fire trucks, I saw a ladder going up to the top of the building and they picked up an old man and then they carried him down. There was another person carried by their arms and by their legs, I don't know if he was conscious, they put him on a stretcher," said Stephen Zhang, a witness.

At least eight residents were taken to area hospitals, most injured after breathing the acrid black smoke that filled the stairwells and apartments on the upper floors.

So what caused the explosion? Fire marshals and police tell Eyewitness News that they found several bug bombs, often called foggers that exploded.

Directions on these are clear, you should never use more than one at a time and never use them near a gas stove or fireplace.

"If they aren't used properly, and it's not easy to get it right all the time, those vapors build up whether it's by a stove or a hot water heater," said Thomas Von Essen, former FDNY commissioner.

Marshals say it's not yet clear if gas lines were involved here, but the sheer number of cans proved volatile enough to set off an explosion that collapsed one floor and could have been much worse.

"A lot of people could have been killed because it got up into the walls and if the guys didn't do such a great job it could have been worse," Von Essen said.

Some 40 people remain displaced Thursday night.