The death toll at the deadly Oakland Ghost Ship fire has risen to 36 as of press time. The Oakland Ghost Ship and Sutya Yuga Art Collective, which had been converted to makeshift art studios and living spaces, went up in flames during a party in Oakland, California, on Friday night, Dec. 2, 2016, at around 11:30 p.m.
Excavators, a crane and dumpster trucks had to be brought in to help in the recovery of the bodies trapped in the debris that are hard to reach and need to be “cut from the wreckage.” The building, located south of downtown in the 1300 block of 31st Avenue in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood, was a warehouse packed with paintings, statues, beds, couches and even a “coffin.” The owner of the property has been identified as Chor Ng who owns several buildings across the Bay Area. The property has received 10 complaints over the past 10 years, the most recent involving a makeshift stairwell and unpermitted construction. The electronic music party on Friday was reportedly held on the second floor in a large open space and accessible by a stairway made of pallets.
City officials revealed the warehouse had no permits that allowed for a party to be held or for residential occupation, there was no sprinkler system in the two-story building and firefighters saw no evidence that smoke detectors were activated during the blaze. People who made it out alive admit they struggled to get through the cluttered warehouse and fire crews noted they were also impeded by the massive amount of clutter, including furniture and art, as they tried to tackle the blaze.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf announced Alameda County district attorney Nancy E. O’Malley has activated a criminal investigation team and they were on the scene of the fire.
Schaaf said during a press conference, “It is with so much grief and so much compassion that we as your city family share with you this horrific news.”
County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Ray Kelly says, “Firefighters are tired, exhausted. This is very emotional.”
The youngest reported victim is 17. The victims come from as far as Europe and Asia.
Melinda Drayton, Oakland Fire Department battalion chief, tells media, “This will be a long and arduous process. “We want to make sure we are respecting the victims and their families and ensuring our firefighters’ safety.”
Firefighters have recovered 36 bodies. Kelly says rescue crews found bodies of people “protecting each other, holding each other.”
Derick Ion Almena, 46, and wife, Micah Allison, 40, managed the warehouse, but Ng is the property owner of the Oakland Ghost Ship.
Investigators have said that they have told the fire and sheriff’s departments to treat the area as “a potential crime scene.”