Oakland Failed to Act on 'Death Trap' Warnings

Some of the 36 fire victims were able to text goodbyes
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 6, 2016 5:25 AM CST
City Failed to Shut Down 'Death Trap' Warehouse
The charred exterior of the warehouse.   (Alameda County Sheriff's Office)

The death toll from Friday's horrific warehouse fire has risen to 36, making it California's deadliest building fire since the devastation of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. As recovery efforts at the "Ghost Ship" warehouse continue, many are wondering why inspectors failed to act despite repeated complaints that the cluttered building was being illegally used for living and entertainment purposes. NBC reports that at least 10 complaints were filed over the last 18 years, including a 2007 complaint calling the building "a nuisance or substandard or hazardous or injurious." Two of the complaints were filed just last month. Officials say inspectors visited Nov. 17, but left after they couldn't get in. A round-up of coverage:

  • Some victims trapped in the warehouse were able to text goodbyes to loved ones, the AP reports. Relatives received messages like "I'm going to die" and "I love you," Alameda County sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Ray Kelly told reporters Monday, adding that rescue workers found the bodies of some people who were "protecting each other, holding each other."

  • Officials say they have identified 33 of the victims and notified 23 families, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. They say rescue crews, who are searching for evidence of a crime as well as additional victims, believe there may be no more bodies to recover. Investigators believe they have discovered the spot where the fire began, though there is no word yet on the cause. A list of victims can be seen here.
  • Investigators say they have found no sign of fire alarms or sprinklers in the structure, which had been subdivided into a maze of artists' studios and residences. Zac Unger, vice president of the local Oakland Firefighter Union, tells the Los Angeles Times that the city is extremely short on fire inspectors. "Had a fire inspector walked into that building and seen the conditions in there, they would have shut the place down," he says.
  • The San Jose Mercury News, which has a diagram of the building's interior showing how much of a death trap it was, reports that interviews with interviews with experts and former Ghost Ship residents show that the fire danger was ignored by people including the warehouse's owner and city employees. Officials declined to say when the building last received a fire inspection, though it had apparently been quite some time: Authorities say fire extinguishers found in the wreckage were inoperative.
  • Relatives and associates tell the AP that Derick Ion Almena, who leased the warehouse and founded the artists' collective, saw himself as a guru—but didn't care about his followers' well-being. "Honestly, I don't think he is capable of feeling any kind of remorse or guilt," says Michael Allison, father of Almena's partner, Micah Allison. "I've never seen him ever really care about anyone else." He says the couple, who lived in the warehouse but weren't present during the fire, used drugs including meth and heroin and had their three children taken away by social services for several months last year.
(More Oakland fire stories.)

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