Death toll grows to 36 in Oakland warehouse fire

This Dec. 3, 2016 image from video provided by KGO-TV shows the Ghost Ship Warehouse after a fire that started late Friday swept through the Oakland, Calif., building. Dozens of people are confirmed dead with the toll expected to rise. (KGO-TV via AP)

BREAKING AP UPDATE: The death toll in the Oakland warehouse fire has grown to 36.

Authorities announced the latest tally early Monday, saying they expect the number to rise.

Eleven victims have been positively identified, but the names have yet to be publicly released.

Work has stopped at the scene for now because one wall is leaning inward, posing a safety hazard for those who have been searching the structure. Officials hope to have an engineering solution later today.

Authorities also believe they’ve located the section of the building where the fire started, but the cause remains unknown.

The fire erupted during a dance party late Friday night.


PREVIOUS COVERAGE:

OAKLAND (KRON) — According to the Associated Press, 33 bodies have been found and two dozen people have been unaccounted for Saturday afternoon from inside a two-story Oakland warehouse being used as an artist collective that caught on fire during a party Friday night.

U.C. Berkeley reported that three of their students are missing.

Authorities said they feared the toll could rise as high as 40 from the fire. Several dozen have been found alive.

Alameda County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ray Kelly said Saturday the bodies have been taken to the coroner’s office to be identified.

Kelly says there are more bodies trapped in the debris that are hard to reach and need to be “cut from the wreckage.”

He says excavators, a crane and dumpster trucks are being brought in to help in the recovery and the building is being flooded with light to allow crews to work through the night.

Kelly says crews will have to move very slowly as they pull out debris and look for more victims.

The fire broke out around 11:30 p.m. at a warehouse known as the “Ghost Ship.”

Oakland fire chief Teresa Deloche-Reed said at least another 25 people were unaccounted for as of Saturday morning and authorities were working to verify who was in the cluttered warehouse when the fire broke out around 11:30 p.m. Friday.

Alameda County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Ray Kelly said authorities were prepared to deal with 30 to 40 deaths.

Between 50 and 100 people were believed to have been at the party when the fire started, Deloche-Reed said. It was not immediately clear what started the fire, but there did not appear to be sprinklers in the building, she said.

The interior of the warehouse “made it difficult for people to escape,” Deloche-Reed said.

The warehouse was partitioned into artist studios and was packed with furniture, mannequins, statues, lamps, and other objects and did not have a clear entry or exit path, the fire chief said. The only way out of the second floor was a makeshift stairwell made of pallets.

“There is still a large portion of the building that still needs to be searched,” she said. “There is large timber and debris that will need to be removed and it’s going to have to be removed in a slow and methodical way.”

The fire caused the building’s roof to collapse and investigators were having trouble entering parts of the warehouse to search for any remaining bodies because the structure was deemed unsafe, Deloche-Reed said.

The building in a gritty part of Oakland was still smoldering Saturday as firefighters used tools to chop a path through debris.

The fire tore through the building during an event featuring musician Golden Donna’s 100% Silk West Coast tour.

Survivors said they struggled to find working fire extinguishers.

“It was too hot, too much smoke, I had to get out of there,” Bob Mule, a photographer and artist who lives at the building and suffered minor burns. “I literally felt my skin peeling and my lungs being suffocated by smoke. I couldn’t get the fire extinguisher to work.”

The victims are believed to be young, probably in the 20-30-year-old age group, Sgt. Kelly said. He also believes there more bodies still inside, but “Not going to get into the numbers game.”

There are survivors, according to the fire department.

Recovery efforts had to be stopped because the warehouse has been deemed unsafe.

Officials plan on being at the scene of the fire for the next 48 hours and are still investigating what caused the fire.

People used a Facebook page Saturday to post and seek information on family and friends who may have been in the building.

Oakland police urged those concerned about missing people to call the Alameda County Sheriff’s Coroner’s Bureau at 510-382-3000.

The office said the coroners were also at the scene Saturday morning and unavailable for comment.

The event’s Facebook page has a thread going to help locate the missing people:

https://www.facebook.com/events/594396784086012/?active_tab=discussion

City of Oakland started investigating warehouse weeks ago

The city of Oakland started investigating nearly three weeks ago whether people were illegally living in a warehouse destroyed by a fire late Friday night. At least ten people died.

Darin Ranelletti, of the City of Oakland Planning Department, says the city had received reports of people living illegally in the building, which was only permitted as a warehouse. They opened an investigation on Nov. 13. He says an investigator went to the premises on Nov. 17 but could not gain access to the inside of the building

Ranelletti says they had not yet confirmed people were living inside. Photos posted online of the warehouse – called the “Oakland Ghost Ship” – showed pictures of a bohemian, loft-like interior made of wood and cluttered with beds, rugs, old sofas, pianos, paintings, turntables, statues and other items.

Neighbors had complained of trash piling up outside the property and concerns the garbage posed a danger, according to the city’s Planning and Building Department website.

There was also no evidence of sprinklers in the building. People had complained about blight on the property and an investigation was opened.

This is a developing story. Stay with 8News online and on air for the latest updates.

Never miss another Facebook post from 8News

Find 8News on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram; send your news tips to iReport8@wric.com.