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‘They were trapped in this inferno’: Oakland officials fear dozens are dead in fire

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‘They were trapped in this inferno’: Oakland officials fear dozens are dead in fire

Post by Harry on Sun Dec 04, 2016 9:49 am

‘They were trapped in this inferno’: Oakland officials fear dozens are dead in fire

By Tim Bontemps, Kristine Guerra and Ana Swanson December 4 at 9:00 AM

What we know about the Oakland deadly fire

Authorities in Oakland, Calif., continue to look for victims of a deadly fire that broke out during a party at warehouse that served as an art and music venue. This is what's known, so far, about the fatal fire. (Claritza Jimenez/The Washington Post)

OAKLAND, Calif. — California officials fear dozens may have died in a massive fire that swept through an Oakland warehouse where a rave concert was taking place Friday night.

Nine people have been confirmed dead, and dozens of others remain missing, officials said.

In a news conference Saturday, authorities said they expected the death toll to rise, but they did not know by how much.

“We’re expecting the worst — maybe a couple dozen victims here,” Sgt. Ray Kelly, spokesman for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office told reporters. “We did not have a lot of victims go to the hospital. It appears that people either made it out, or they didn’t make it out.”

Seung Lee and his friends left the concert, a party featuring musician Golden Donna’s 100% Silk West Coast Tour, to buy some drinks, Lee told the Los Angeles Times. When they were walking back, they saw black smoke coming out of the warehouse’s first floor while fire engulfed the back of the building.

“The hardest thing I’m having trouble processing are the people on the second floor,” Lee, 24, told the Times. “I saw them dancing and having a fun time, and 10 minutes later they were trapped in this inferno.”

The three-alarm fire was reported at about 11:30 p.m. Friday at the warehouse known as Oakland Ghost Ship on 31st Avenue, a short block off International Boulevard, one of the main thoroughfares of East Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood. Oakland Fire Chief Teresa Deloach-Reed told The Washington Post that more than 50 people were inside.

The concert was being held on a second floor, where most of the nine bodies were later found. A makeshift stairway put together with pallets was separating it from the first floor, Deloach-Reed said.

By the time firefighters arrived at the scene, the staircase had burned away, Mark Hoffmann, deputy chief of the Oakland Fire Department, said Saturday.

The building’s instability slowed the recovery effort on Saturday. Officials said the building’s roof had collapsed onto the second floor and, in many areas, the first floor as well. Firefighters and structural engineers spent much of the day shoring up the structure so it would be safe to enter the building and recover the bodies. Hoffman told Reuters about a dozen people survived the blaze, including one who went to a local hospital.

Drones equipped with thermal technology were used to scan the building for possible survivors, Kelly said. Initial reports, however, were grim.

“The drones were being used with a thermal imager,” Kelly said. “It’s very, very helpful technology. It allows us to focus in, and we can actually see the heat coming off of someone if they are alive. We didn’t see any heat signatures of live people. Not to say that there’s not, but the chances are very small.”

[This is how the devastating Gatlinburg wildfire erupted overnight]

Authorities said it wasn’t clear whether electrical issues, pyrotechnics, or errant candles or cigarettes had started the fire. Fire officials said the building did not have sprinklers.

An arson investigation would also be underway, though the fire is not being investigated as a crime, Officer Johnna Watson, a spokeswoman for the Oakland Police Department, said.

As darkness fell here on Saturday, the scene around the warehouse had begun to stabilize. The burned building, with all of its windows blown out, had blue Alameda County Sheriff’s Office tents lined up on both sides of the entrance.

The city planning and building department had previously investigated the warehouse due to complaints about trash outside the property and illegal internal structures built inside the warehouse, said Darin Ranelletti, the department’s director. Complaints had been filed about the building as recently as November.

Ranelletti said authorities are still investigating whether people were living in the building. The last permitted use of the building was as a warehouse, so neither habitation nor a concert would have been legal without permits.

One survivor, Bob Mule, said he was one of 18 artists living in the warehouse, according to the Associated Press. In an interview with KGO-TV, Mule said he and another person saw the fire and started yelling. “The fire went up really, really, really quickly,” he said.

The building’s interior featured a tangled network of antique furniture, artwork, musical instruments, wooden lofts, tapestries and oddities, such as mannequin parts, according to a Tumblr blog that appears to show the building. “It was a labyrinth,” said Hoffman.


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