At least 33 died in a fire that tore through a converted warehouse dance party in Oakland, California. Firefighters struggling to remove the wreckage of the building gutted in the blaze. Officials said that the number may rise as they have no idea how many bodies are there under the debris.
Mayor Libby Schaaf said Alameda County district attorney Nancy E O’Malley had activated a criminal investigation and the investigators were on the scene of the fire.
“You have to understand that the scope of this tragedy is tremendous,” she said. “We have many, many witnesses to interview. We are in the process of doing that.”
The first death tole announced was 24. Then on Sunday, Alameda County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ray Kelly announced the new figure of 33. He said crew are starting to get deeper into the building and that as they advance they expect to find more victims.
Kelly said, “I don’t know how many people are left in there. We have no idea how many people were in that building that night… We’re expecting the worst and hoping for the best in regards to how many more victims we find.”
Oakland Battalion Fire Chief Melinda Drayton said fire crews worked through the night to clear debris from the gutted building.
During a news conference last morning, Drayton said that firefighters were removing wreckages from the cluttered warehouse “literally bucket by bucket” overnight.
She added that the crew gave only been able to search “approximately 20 per cent” of the building since Saturday night, describing the search as “a long and arduous process.”
The building’s roof had collapsed into the second floor, which in places fell to the bottom floor. Firefighters had to temporarily stop their search and rescue operations Saturday when they became too dangerous, taking time to shore up the structure, Oakland deputy fire chief Mark Hoffmann said.
The fire in Oakland near San Francisko, broke out about 11:30 pm Friday (0730 GMT Saturday) at the cluttered warehouse, named ‘Ghost Ship’, where artists and students worked and lived, even though the structure wasn’t licensed for such use. The electronic dance music party, with between 50 and 100 guests, also took place without a permit.
With few lights, the place could be pitch black. One staircase led to a boarded up door. The water and electricity were stolen from neighbors and often didn’t work.
Former residents said it was also a death trap with few exits, a rickety makeshift staircase, piles of driftwood and a labyrinth of electrical cords. The ground floor had five recreational vehicles and other nooks used as living spaces that were rented out to tenants, while the upstairs had space for concerts like the deadly party that drew up to 100 people Friday night.
The search for bodies is expected to continue at least 48 hours. Authorities said that DNA will be needed to identify bodies, and officials have asked families of those feared dead to preserve any DNA evidence they may have, including hair or tooth brushes.
Seven victims have been identified based on fingerprints so far, ranging in age from 17 to 35. The City of Oakland had released the names on late Sunday night.
— City of Oakland (@Oakland) December 5, 2016
An eighth victim whose family has been notified is a 17-year-old, authorities said, but the juvenile’s name was withheld.
Some were from Europe and Asia, and the Oakland authorities are working with the State Department to contact foreign governments, Kelly said, declining to reveal which countries.
Oakland Fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed has said the interior of the warehouse was maze-like, “filled end-to-end with furniture, whatnot, collections.”
Images published online show artwork, pianos and wooden objects throughout the building, which helps explain why the blaze raced through the structure despite firefighters’ arrival within three minutes. The building didn’t have sprinklers or smoke detectors.
The Oakland Fire Department said they are currently working with a variety of agencies in the aftermath of the tragedy, including the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department, the Oakland Police Department, the Alameda County Search and Rescue, and the American Red Cross, among others.
The deadliest nightclub fire in the United States in recent decades occurred in 2003, when pyrotechnic effects by the rock band Great White set off an inferno at The Station nightclub in Rhode Island, killing 100 people.