Oakland (AP): Oakland officials on Sunday increased the death toll of a warehouse fire to 30 people, as recovery teams continued their search of the fragile, burned-out building where an unauthorized party became the scene of one of the worst disasters in the city’s history.
Oakland ‘Ghost Ship’ warehouse had history of violations before deadly fire
At an afternoon briefing, a spokesman for the Alameda county sheriff, Sergeant Ray Kelly, said 30 people had been confirmed killed and that investigators were still methodically “dissecting” the collapsed sections of the building, in the Fruitvale neighborhood.
“Not all families [of the deceased] are from inside the Bay Area or even from the state,” said police spokeswoman Johanna Watson, adding that some appeared to be from outside the US.
Earlier on Sunday, an unofficial list of those unaccounted for, compiled by friends and family searching for loved ones, still showed about 30 names.
At a morning press briefing, Kelly said: “In regards to the amount of people that are still missing, yes, it’s a significant number.”
Fire battalion chief Melinda Drayton said the search was only 20% complete, and Kelly was certain the death toll would increase.
Kelly told reporters teams had worked through the night, with a crane and floodlights, to reach bodies on the second floor of the warehouse. Officials said there were only two exits from the second floor, and no evidence of smoke detectors or sprinklers.
Firefighters searched the debris “bucket by bucket”, Drayton said. “It was quiet, it was heartbreaking,” she added. “This will be a long and arduous process.”
The fire began at about 11.30pm on Friday, blazing for hours and trapping people within the warehouse, which was known locally as “the Ghost Ship”.
Officials said that they did not yet know the cause of the fire, and that there may have been as many as 50 to 100 people in the building when it began.
US police search for Oakland ‘Ghost Ship’ warehouse fire victims
The warehouse had a history of safety code violations, city records showed, and a former resident told the Guardian that she had reported it to a fire marshal in 2014.
For years, the building had housed art studios and makeshift residences. The former resident said inside was a maze of fire hazards: a staircase made of wooden pallets, old pianos and couches, trinkets, furniture and ramshackle lean-to shelters.
Authorities did not immediately identify any victims, though most were believed to have been in their 20s and 30s.
The building lacked permits for housing, work or as a party venue. The city had received complaints about blight and opened an investigation into whether there was illegal construction within the warehouse.
An inspector had failed to gain access before the fire, said Oakland’s building and planning chief, Darin Ranalletti.