Warehouse in Oakland fire that killed 36 not inspected in 30 years
OAKLAND, Calif. — The city of Oakland received repeated complaints over the years about the Ghost Ship warehouse, where 36 people were killed in a fire last week, but the building hadn’t been inspected in three decades, according to officials.
The site, along with an adjacent lot, had become cluttered with old cars, oil containers, pests and trash, according to those complaints.
Many of the 10 complaints were directed at the lot, pointing to a “ton of garbage piling up on the property” as well as the “illegal interior building structure” at the warehouse, according to city records released Tuesday.
The site was damaged in a fire in 1988, but additional information on that incident was not immediately available.
Darin Ranelletti, Oakland’s interim director of planning and building, said Wednesday the warehouse had not been inspected in 30 years.
“That means we had no applications for permits in the last 30 years, and there were no violations that were submitted for interior work within the main building attributed to that street address,” he explained.
The most recent complaints were filed three weeks before Friday’s fire.
Inspectors went to the property in November to investigate a complaint about blight and an illegal structure in the lot next door, Ranelletti said. The lot has a different address than the warehouse.
Friday night’s blaze broke out during an electronic dance party, killing dozens who could not escape from the dilapidated two-story warehouse, known locally as the Ghost Ship.
The building’s owner, Chor N. Ng, received a citation in November for hazardous trash and debris surrounding the building. Officials had also received complaints of illegal construction on the property.
“Some of the trash was hazardous,” read a complaint dated November 13. “The yard became a trash collection site and the main building was remodeled for residential.”
More records about the warehouse and the lot are being collected by various city departments and will be released, according to Oakland authorities.
How fire started still unknown
The cause of the fire is still under investigation, Oakland Fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed said Tuesday.
A search of the building was completed Wednesday, and no additional victims were found, officials said.
There is no evidence the fire was deliberately set, said Jill Snyder, special agent in charge with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ San Francisco field division.
“By all accounts the fire started on the first floor,” she said, adding that smoke filled two stairwells, likely trapping the partygoers on the second floor. Most of the victims were found on what remained of the second floor after the roof collapsed onto it.
She said it appears there was no fire-suppression or fire alarm system in the building.
Ghost Ship manager: ‘I’m incredibly sorry’
Derick Almena, the building’s leaseholder, has come under widespread scrutiny after former tenants and visitors reported unsafe conditions, such as fires sparked by faulty electrical cords.
Almena has not responded to CNN’s request for comment. But in a Tuesday interview with NBC’s “Today” show, Almena apologized to the victims’ families and vehemently defended himself, saying he would have never intentionally endangered any of his tenants.
“I’m only here to say one thing: That I am incredibly sorry,” he told “Today.”
“Everything I did was to make this a stronger, more beautiful community.”
Almena denounced accusations that he spent more money on parties at the warehouse than on repairs.
“I don’t want to talk about me. I don’t want to talk about profiting. This is profit? The loss of mass life?” he said.
“I’m a father. I laid my three children down there every night.”
It’s not clear whether anyone will face criminal charges. Authorities are trying to determine whether there’s any criminal liability and — if so — who is responsible, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said.
A communal space
The Ghost Ship was a coveted haven in the Bay Area’s gentrifying landscape of skyrocketing rents and disappearing artist spaces. Residents estimate 20 to 25 artists lived there.
Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, who is from Oakland, wrote on Instagram that he had many years ago “lived in warehouses and communal spaces like Ghost Ship. …”
“… (T)hose were some of the best and most fulfilling times in my life. living with other weirdos, artists, activists, and musicians … spaces like this allow the strange ones to thrive and be the people that normal society rejects.
“(W)e inspired each other, laughed together, and created new friends and family we didn’t know existed. The city of Oakland provided that for me and my closest friends,” he posted with a photo from a Monday night vigil.
The warehouse was to be used only as a commercial space and had not received any residential or public assembly permits. City officials didn’t sign off on a special permit for the Friday event, Ranelletti said.
Oakland officials are seeking to declare a local emergency to get state and federal funding. That request will go before the City Council during a special meeting Thursday.