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Flushing squatters’ home hit with 2 fires in 1 night

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Two separate fires ripped through a Flushing factory that is home to squatters Saturday night, damaging a business next door for the third time in six months.

A two-alarm blaze broke out at 6:12 p.m. in the old Miller Tube Co. building at 133-05 32nd Ave., said Robert Calise, a Fire Department spokesman. More than 100 firefighters brought the blaze under control by 7:44 p.m., Calise said. Residents smelled smoke from the fire from as far as two miles away in Auburndale.

Firefighters had to return to the very same location just hours later, where an all-hands fire broke out at 11:19 p.m., Calise said. The second blaze was brought under control shortly before midnight.

Both fires were under investigation, Calise said.

The flames left the steel-roof beams bent and twisted and the structural integrity of the building in question, said Sid Dinsay, a spokesman for the city Buildings Department.

Saturday was not the first time a fire has broken out in the old factory.

Giulio Petruccelli, a vice president of Pibbs Industries, a barber supply manufacturer located next store to the building, said he had to spend $80,000 to deal with smoke damage from two fires that occurred during the winter and now has to spend another $50,000.

Petruccelli said he had been vocal about complaining both to the police and the Buildings Department, but fires continue to occur at the abandoned factory and endanger his business.

"We're afraid their walls are going to come and fall on top of us," he said. "We're almost out of business, and it seems like the city doesn't even care."

The Miller Tube building is one of the most notorious sites in Flushing.

For years the streets surrounding the factory have been home to prostitutes. In the mid-1990s, nearby residents organized a march drawing attention to the problem, and police stepped up patrols of the area.

But prostitution has since returned, some residents said.

"We got rid of them and now they're back again," said Dorothy Michaels, who helped spearhead the anti-prostitution march.

Michaels said the Miller Tube building was always a favorite of prostitutes.

"They used to be always sitting on the steps there of that building, hanging around that area, the johns with them, their pimps," she said.

Complaints over the last few years have prompted the police and city Department of Housing, Preservation and Development to fill in the building's windows with bricks to prevent squatters from living inside.

Despite those efforts, firefighters found squatters inside the building Saturday, Calise said.

Prostitution is not the only crime which has occurred in the area as of late. In July, the charred body of a woman was found inside a burning van sitting across the street from the Miller Tube building on Higgins Street.

The Miller Tube building has been abandoned for at least five years, local residents and business owners said.

It was unclear exactly who has owned the building since the factory shut down. A spokesman for the city Department of Finance said Gams Construction Corp. at 147-18 Hillside Ave. in Jamaica owns the building, although other records list Miller Tube and the city as recent owners.

Petruccelli said he tried to buy the property from the city last year, when he planned to offer $4 million at an auction. But the auction was abruptly canceled.

Petruccelli said he was worried about the welfare of his 80 employees, given the structural weakness of the Miller Tube building and the possibility of even more fires.

"Somebody has to be held responsible for this," he said.

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.

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