Death toll in Cal­i­for­nia ware­house fire hits 33, with more ex­pected.

Fire­fight­ers say ex­trac­tion will be ‘long and ar­du­ous process’

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY JONATHAN J. COOPER AND KRISTIN J. BEN­DER

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.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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