Oakland Blaze Was One of Worst US Fires in 50 Years

Criminal investigation team looking into disaster
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 5, 2016 3:51 AM CST
Criminal Investigators Looking Into Oakland Disaster
Buffalo Bills players observe a moment of silence for fire victims before their Sunday game against the Oakland Raiders.   (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

The blaze that ripped through a converted warehouse in Oakland, Calif., during a party on Friday has now been confirmed as America's deadliest fire in more than a decade—and authorities say more than half the wreckage of the "Ghost Ship" warehouse hasn't been searched yet. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf announced Sunday that a criminal investigation team is now looking into the disaster, ABC7 reports. The AP reports that the warehouse, which wasn't licensed for residential or entertainment use, was already being investigated for alleged code violations. In other developments:

  • Those confirmed dead include many young artists and musicians, with the youngest victims aged 17 and the oldest in their 30s, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. In a tragic coincidence, one victim is the son of a deputy for the Alameda County Sheriff's Office, which has been tasked with removing bodies from the scene.

  • The San Jose Mercury News reports that Derick Ion Almena, the man who created the "Ghost Ship" artists' collective—and allegedly ignored warnings about fire safety—is being called "selfish and careless" in the wake of the disaster. He caused outrage after the fire when he failed to mention the victims in a Facebook post, lamenting instead that "everything I worked so hard for is gone." Almena lived in the warehouse with his wife and children, but they were not present during the fire.
  • Visitors and former residents describe the warehouse as a "cluttered deathtrap" that had been carved into many artists' studios, with only a rickety staircase made partly of pallets connecting the second floor, where many died, with the first floor, the AP reports. Associates say Almena leased the warehouse and rented out RVs and other spaces to artists. Events like Friday's party were held to help raise rent money.
  • Oakland Fire Battalion Chief Melinda Drayton warns that the search and recovery process could take a long time, CNN reports. Firefighters are removing debris "literally bucket by bucket in a methodical, thoughtful, mindful, and compassionate way," she said Sunday.
  • The fire was among the deadliest building fires in the US in the last 50 years, reports NBC News, which lists the worst 10 from that period. The Oakland fire is the seventh on a list that includes 9/11 and the Oklahoma City bombing.
  • Another Mercury News story looks at how rising rents elsewhere created a thriving artistic community in Oakland's warehouses, which could now be forced out. "The city's gonna paint us as some ugly, crusty, punk kids that are up to no good," says Katelyn Charvoz, 25. "If they buy up all the warehouses on every street and kick everyone out, it will just hurt the arts community here."
  • Survivor Chris Nechodom tells the San Francisco Chronicle that there were scenes of horror and panic as the fire spread from the back of the warehouse and started "swooping down" from the ceiling. "We all start shuffling to the front—we're getting low. We get to the front and there's a few people yelling and screaming, so I start helping, yelling and screaming like, 'This is where the front entrance is! Follow our boys—come here, come here!'" he says. Nechodom says that before long, smoke forced him out of the building. Within minutes, he says, a "big bellow of black smoke kind of came out of every window and it blew out of the door." Few survivors emerged after that, he says.
  • The AP reports that teams including the Oakland Raiders, the Oakland A's, and the Golden State Warriors are donating money to help families affected by the disaster. "We're all with you out there. We're all devastated today," Golden State head coach Steve Kerr said before the team hosted the Phoenix Suns on Saturday.
(More Oakland fire stories.)

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