Death toll in California warehouse fire hits 33, with more expected.
Firefighters say extraction will be ‘long and arduous process’
OAKLAND, CALIF. | The death toll in a latenight dance party fire at a converted Oakland warehouse rose to 33 on Sunday as firefighters dug slowly through the charred remnants of the building in their search for what they expect will be more victims.
Crews in Oakland, California, are removing debris “bucket by bucket,” Battalion Chief Melinda Dayton said. Firefighters worked through the night in a “mindful, thoughtful and compassionate” way.
“This will be a long and arduous process, but we want to make sure we are respecting the victims and their families and firefighter safety,” Chief Dayton said, adding that the process is “heartbreaking.”
Alameda County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ray Kelly said Sunday only about 20 percent of the building has been searched. Sgt. Kelly said officials have notified the families of three of the dead.
The search for bodies is expected to continue at least 48 hours.
Fire ripped through the cluttered structure Friday in the building known as the “Ghost Ship.” The site was an artist workspace that doubled as an illegal dwelling for a rotating cast of a dozen or more residents, those who lived there or visited often said.
Former residents said it was also a death trap with few exits, a rickety makeshift staircase, piles of driftwood and a labyrinth of electrical cords. The ground floor had five recreational vehicles and other nooks used as living spaces that were rented out to tenants, while the upstairs had space for concerts like the deadly party that drew up to 100 people Friday night. The water and electricity were stolen from neighbors and often didn’t work.
“If you were not familiar with the building and the way that it was, if you were going there for a party, you wouldn’t be aware of the maze that you have to go through to get out,” said Danielle Boudreaux, a former friend of the couple who ran the warehouse.
Ms. Boudreaux identified the operators of the collective as Derick Ion Almena and Micah Allison. She said she had a falling out with Mr. Almena when she persuaded Mr. Allison’s parents and sister about a year ago that the warehouse was a dangerous place for the couple’s three children to live.
The couple charged tenants enough to cover the warehouse rent and used proceeds from parties to pay their own living expenses, Ms. Boudreaux said.
On Saturday, the artist retreat had turned into a scene of horrors, the 4,000-square-foot structure to rubble. The building’s roof had collapsed into the second floor, which in places fell to the bottom floor. Firefighters had to temporarily stop their search and rescue operations Saturday when they became too dangerous, taking time to shore up the structure, Oakland deputy fire Chief Mark Hoffmann said.
Oakland officials said they had opened an investigation just last month into the warehouse after repeated complaints from neighbors who said trash was piling up and people were illegally living in the building, which was zoned as a warehouse.
Darin Ranelletti of the Oakland Planning Department said the city opened an investigation Nov. 13 and an investigator went to the premises on Nov. 17 but could not get inside. The city has not confirmed people were living inside.
Online records listed the building’s owner as Nar Siu Chor. The Associated Press could not locate a telephone number for her Saturday and efforts to reach her at other Oakland addresses associated with her were not successful.
A website for the warehouse showed pictures of a Bohemian, loftlike interior made of wood and cluttered with rugs, old sofas and a garage-sale like collection of pianos, paintings, turntables, statues and other items. Advertisements touted various electronic music parties. Friday night’s event featured musician Golden Donna’s 100% Silk West Coast tour.
Firefighters clear an entry to a smoldering building after a fire tore through a warehouse party early Saturday in Oakland, California. Fire officials are continuing the grim task of searching for what they believe will be more bodies amid the smoking wreckage.
A woman mourns outside the charred building, where 33 are now confirmed dead.