Up to 40 feared dead in party blaze

Fire­fight­ers say two-story ware­house was a ‘death trap’ with no sprin­klers or smoke de­tec­tors

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE in Oak­land, Cal­i­for­nia

Fire crews in Cal­i­for­nia worked into the night on Satur­day sift­ing through the re­mains of a ware­house gut­ted by a blaze dur­ing a rave party, with of­fi­cials say­ing they fear the death toll could reach 40.

Rel­a­tives of dozens of peo­ple miss­ing in the Fri­day night blaze in Oak­land near San Fran­cisco con­tin­ued their anx­ious wait for news. Nine peo­ple are con­firmed dead so far.

The rick­ety two-story ware­house was used by artists as a liv­ing and workspace but had no li­cense for this, of­fi­cials said, nor for the elec­tronic dance party un­der­way when the blaze broke out. The cause was not yet known.

Fire­fight­ers said the build­ing seemed to have no sprin­klers or smoke de­tec­tors.

Or­ange flames shot through the roof as the fire burned for hours and thick smoke bil­lowed into the sky. The roof col­lapsed onto the sec­ond floor, which of­fi­cials said was con­nected to the ground floor only by a makeshift sys­tem of wooden pal­lets.

Fire­fight­ers had to pull out of the build­ing to shore it up when part of the frag­ile struc­ture and some of the walls be­gan to move.

Sergeant Ray Kelly of the Alameda County Sher­iff ’s depart­ment told an evening news con­fer­ence that about two dozen peo­ple who were re­ported miss­ing had been lo­cated.

But at least two dozen more re­main miss­ing, he said.

“We don’t know how far into the process we are, be­cause we don’t ab­so­lutely have a num­ber of peo­ple that we know are de­ceased in­side of there,” he said.

An of­fi­cial at his of­fice, who de­clined to be named, said early on Sun­day the death toll could rise to 40 or even higher.

Most of those who per­ished in the blaze that started about 11:30 pm on Fri­day were thought to have died on the up­per floor of the two-story ware­house known as Oak­land Ghost Ship, said Oak­land Fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed.

“It must have been a very fast-moving fire,” she said.

The elec­tronic dance mu­sic party was at­tended by an es­ti­mated 50 to 100 peo­ple.

The sher­iff ’s of­fice sta­tion in Oak­land be­came a cen­ter for rel­a­tives of the miss­ing. The Sal­va­tion Army dropped off 50 meals for them, the San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle re­ported.

The ware­house had nu­mer­ous par­ti­tions added to the orig­i­nal build­ing.

Some of the struc­tural changes made it ex­tremely dif­fi­cult for peo­ple to es­cape, Reed said.

“There wasn’t a real en­try or exit path,” Reed said.

The clut­ter ham­pered fire­fight­ers’ ef­forts to put out the blaze.

“It was filled end-to-end with fur­ni­ture, what­not, col­lec­tions,” Reed said. “It was like a maze, al­most.”

Friends and fam­i­lies of par­ty­go­ers took to so­cial me­dia to search for news about their loved ones, with some post­ing in­for­ma­tion on the event’s Facebook page.

“Please tell me you are safe,” one woman wrote, adding a friend’s name, while others posted prayers.

“I lit­er­ally felt my skin peel­ing and my lungs be­ing suf­fo­cated by smoke,” Bob Mule, a pho­tog­ra­pher who lives in the build­ing, told Fox tele­vi­sion af­fil­i­ate KTVU. “I couldn’t get the fire ex­tin­guisher to work.”

ELIJAH NOUVELAGE / AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Fire­fight­ers work at the scene of the blaze in the Fruit­vale neigh­bor­hood of Oak­land, Cal­i­for­nia. Of­fi­cials said the ware­house in which the fire broke out had been il­le­gally con­verted into artists’ stu­dios.

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