Thirty-six people died after a fire broke out in a converted warehouse hosting an electronic music show in the Fruitvale District of Oakland near midnight on Friday, December 2, 2016, making it the deadliest structure blaze in California since the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire.
The fire tore through a large, two-story building, known at the Ghost Ship, filling it with deadly, thick black smoke, which poured from the building’s windows for several hours. Crews from the Oakland Fire Department and Alameda County Sheriff’s Office used excavators and other heavy equipment to reach deeper inside the collapsed structure in the recovery of victims.
The Ghost Ship contained personalized, hand-built spaces tailored for musicians and artists, and housed 50 persons. The first floor of the warehouse was an artists’ collective made up of divided work space filled end-to-end with furniture, artwork, musical instruments, wooden lofts, rugs and tapestries. The second floor was used for entertainment and event space.
A Facebook page for the show, billed as the Golden Donna 100% Silk 2016 West Coast Tour, showed 192 people, nearly all in their 20’s and 30’s, planned to attend a performance by Golden Donna, an electronic music act.
Oakland police said those who were concerned about missing people in the fire should contact the Alameda County Sheriff’s Coroner’s Bureau 510-382-3000.
The cause of the fire is under investigation. Property records show the building owner is Chor N. Ng of Oakland who leased the warehouse to Derick Almena and his wife, Micah Allison. Almena started the artists collective, and he and Allison managed the space and allowed artists to live there for a small fee.
The building had been the subject of numerous complaints from neighbors and others. The East Bay Express reports that Oakland records show that there were habitability complaints made against the property’s owner as recently as November 14 , 2016, regarding an “illegal interior building structure.” The Oakland planning and building department had previously investigated the warehouse due to complaints about blight and trash outside the property. A nearby resident told the Associated Press that she had warned Almena that the warehouse was a “death trap.”
The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office has activated its criminal investigation teams. They will examine whether criminal charges should be brought following the determination of the cause of the fire. Investigators are looking at a refrigerator on the first floor as a possible source of the fire, but also other possible culprits.
The fire was already roaring before victims partying on the floor above realized they were in trouble, officials from the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms have stated. The inferno started on the ground floor and sent smoke pouring up two staircases, trapping the party-goers, who were overcome before they could get out,
We agree with an editorial in the East Bay Times that “Oakland warehouse inferno was preventable.” The building had permits for use solely as a warehouse, not as a living or entertainment space. It lacked sprinklers and fire alarms and had only two exits. The only way in and out of the second-floor event space was a narrow, makeshift staircase made out of stacked wooden pallets which did not lead to warehouse exit.
We offer our deepest condolences to the families and friends of the loved ones who died in the fire.
2017 Update: Visit our Ghost Ship fire lawsuit page for comprehensive information on the Ghost Ship fire lawsuit on behalf of families who lost loved ones and others injured.