Oakland ‘Ghost Ship’ warehouse party fire leaves nine dead and 25 missing

City records show building had faced numerous formal complaints, as police spokesman says death toll could reach maybe a couple dozen

At least nine people were dead and 25 unaccounted for after fire broke out during a party in a warehouse in Oakland, city officials said on Saturday. A police spokesman said the death toll could be a couple dozen.

A city councilman told the Guardian he expected more deaths to be confirmed, and officials were reported to fear as many as 40 people dead inside the building, which is known as the Ghost Ship. But at an afternoon news briefing, officials did not confirm that number.

Were expecting the worst, maybe a couple dozen victims here, said Ray Kelly, a spokesman with the Alameda County sheriffs office. There were a lot of people in this building and I dont have an answer to how many victims there were.

Officials said teams were forced to pause their search and recovery work on Saturday morning in order to stabilize the building, as the walls had weakened to dangerous levels.

The building is very tricky, Kelly said. Theres all sorts of wreckage and debris. This is just a tragedy. There are no easy answers.

City records showed that the warehouse had faced numerous formal complaints, including a housing habitability charge of illegal interior building structure, filed last month. The citys investigation was still pending when the fire broke out.

In the last two years, the building had also faced two blight complaints, related to trash and construction debris, including claims that some garbage was hazardous.

Darin Ranelletti, the citys planning and building director, said that the city was able to confirm blight reports, but that its investigation into illegal construction within the building was not completed. The building was not permitted for residential living and would have required a special permit for a party, he added.

Kelly said bodies officials could only visually confirm nine deceased in the building so far. People either made it out or they didnt make it out, he said. It could take days to identify people

The building was an art collective with living space, he said. Its a location where young people come, aspiring artists, they meet, they socialize, they network.

Earlier, fire chief Teresa Deloach-Reed told reporters the warehouse, in the Fruitvale neighborhood, was full of a lot of makeshift, a lot of partitions, a lot of furniture, statues, just a lot of stuff that people seemed like have collected over the years.

The firefighters reported having a hard time making entry into the building and had to back out. Eventually the fire got so hot and the smoke got so dense that they had to back out.

Deputy fire chief Mark Hoffman told reporters a single wooden staircase lead to one level of the warehouse, and it was on fire when firefighters arrived. There was no evidence of sprinklers in the building, the fire chiefs said.

Seung Lee, a 26-year-old Berkeley resident, said he arrived at the party around 11pm with a group of friends and quickly left to get beer. When they returned after a few minutes, the fire had started.

Smoke was coming out furiously, he said. Black thick smoke. Lee said he didnt see anybody make it out of the structure once the fire began. We were just waiting, he said. There was a lot of crying, wailing and panic.

I was up all night thinking, what if I did not leave? he added. I would not have gotten out.

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div class=”u-responsive-ratio”> Firefighters

Firefighters stand outside a warehouse after a fire broke out during an electronic dance party late Friday evening. Photograph: Stephen Lam/Reuters

On Saturday morning, the area around the warehouse still smelled strongly of smoke. The structure appeared to be largely burned out, its facade covered in soot. The warehouses name was still visible, in pink lettering on the front of the building.

They called it the Ghost Ship, now it really is a ghost ship, said Al Garcia, a local shopkeeper.

City councilman Noel Gallo, who represents the district where the fire occurred, said he expected that more than nine people had died. It seems like it was almost impossible for anybody to get out, he said. People got trapped. They are going to start removing the bodies.

A Facebook page for the party, billed as the Golden Donna 100% Silk 2016 West Coast Tour, showed 192 people had planned to attend a performance by Golden Donna, an electronic music act.

On the page, a fire inspector and friends and family of attendees tried to contact each other and account for missing people. Mothers, fathers and siblings posted contact information to a public spreadsheet, alongside the names of loved ones.

Nearly all those missing were in their 20s and 30s and described by identifying features: dreadlocks or strawberry blonde hair, green and brown eyes, scars and tattoos including a keyhole, a balloon and the words They Sleep, We Live.

Tanya Loh, one of the organizers of the effort, said she was moved to do something after her boyfriends best friend, set to DJ at the event, went missing.

The sheriffs office directed families to call an assistance center, set up with the Red Cross on 12th Street. Officials at the Csar E Chvez Branch Library, just south of Fruitvale, volunteered their building as a gathering place for friends and family. Organizers created a donation fund.

Firefighters

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figcaption class=”caption” caption–img caption caption–img” itemprop=”description”> Firefighters leave the warehouse. Photograph: Stephen Lam/Reuters

Garcia said he saw two teenagers running from the building. They were only 17 and 18 years old, he said. They were the last two that got out. Everybody started running, but [one] told me the smoke started over-running them.

Garcia said the youth he spoke to was distraught. He said no one came out after them and thats why he was crying. He knew there were people still in there.

It seemed there was a large crowd at the event, Garcia said, based on cars parked outside. I couldnt believe there was that many people, he said. If anybody got out of there, they were lucky.

Chico Rodriguez, who lives and works near the fire, said he rushed to the scene around 1am and saw firefighters struggling to contain the flames. It looked like it was going out, he said, but all the sudden it flared up again.

Rodriguez, 62, said the smoke was thick: I could smell it all the way down by where I live.

People who made it out were traumatized, he said: This woman, she started screaming and crying. She was really distraught about the whole thing.

It was too hot, too much smoke, I had to get out of there, Bob Mule, a photographer and artist who lives at the building and suffered minor burns, told the East Bay Times.

I literally felt my skin peeling and my lungs being suffocated by smoke. I couldnt get the fire extinguisher to work.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/dec/03/oakland-warehouse-party-fire-deaths

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