36 Killed in Oakland Warehouse Fire
According to rescue workers at the scene, at least 36 people were killed when a fire broke out Friday night in Oakland, California at a warehouse known as the “Ghost Ship.” The warehouse, which has long been the subject of many complaints because of its illegal construction and unsafe conditions, was home to a couple dozen artists. The death toll may still rise as emergency personnel continue to investigate and comb through the scene. Some bodies are so badly burned that dental records will be necessary to identify them.
According to the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, there is now an open criminal investigation into what caused the fatal fire. Many believed that it was triggered by a combination of too many people enclosed in a maze-like space with hidden ladders that led to loft spaces and makeshift “rooms” that had curtains as walls. These “rooms” were crammed with random belongings—pianos, organs, antiques, doors, sculptures, and other flammable materials that the artists used to create their art. There were other countless building code violations, such as lack of proper lighting, no fire exits, no running water, no sprinkler system, exposed electrical cords, and others. An improvised staircase that was made out of wooden pallets was the only way to get to the second floor where the fire started. Described as a “tinder box,” many did not realize how difficult it was to get out of the building until, unfortunately, it was too late. As the fire spread, people jumped out of windows to escape.
On November 14, the city received complaints of blight and unpermitted interior construction. An inspector verified the blight, but was unable to gain access to the building on the 17th to confirm the illegal construction. Such living spaces have become increasingly common with the rising real estate market in the San Francisco and Oakland area, forcing artists and other longtime residents into these smaller spaces that are not kept up to code.
Derick Ion Almena leased the building and was repeatedly warned about how the building was a “death trap” but he chose to ignore those warnings. He was known to host parties to help pay the rent on the warehouse. Authorities say that he did not have permit for the party and are saying that criminal charges are a possibility. On the night of the fire, he had rented a hotel room with his family because of the rave.
The Oakland warehouse is one of several properties owned by Chor N. Ng, according to her daughter Eva Ng. Although the owner is adamant that she did not know that the warehouse was being used as a residence, she would come by once a month to collect the money and did not ask any questions despite the trash, debris, and reports of illegal living.