An Oakland warehouse fire has taken 36 lives, making it the deadliest fire in the U.S. in 13 years according to experts. The fire, which took place in a warehouse called the "Ghost Ship," started on December 2, 2016, during a party at the building. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), have reportedly completed their investigation at the scene of the destroyed building, but have not yet determined what caused the deadly fire. Now families are left to mourn their loved ones while officials determine what charges, if any, should be laid.
Fire Started During Concert
The fire reportedly started during the late hours of December 2, 2016, during a concert, held at the "Ghost Ship" warehouse. Approximately 100 people were on the second floor of the warehouse at the time of the fire.
Although officials still are not sure what caused the fire to start, they do not believe that it was purposely set. Either way, according to reports, the fire quickly spread from its original location on the first floor, trapping and killing 36 people on the second floor. Reports indicate there were no fire suppression or alarm systems in the building.
"There was rapid fire progression," said Jill Snyder of the ATF. "Initial witness interviews have indicated the fire was well developed by the time the second-floor occupants realized a fire was going on on the first floor."
Neither of the building's two staircases led to an exit, and with a maze of wooden pallets—including wooden pallets that were used to build a stairwell—RVs and artistic works were on the first floor, people not familiar with the building would have had a difficult time getting out in the dark.
The fire department was called to the scene around 11:30 p.m. that Friday night. The fire moved so quickly it was declared a defensive fire, meaning firefighters could not go inside the building due to the danger. They were left to attack the fire from the outside to get it under control.
City officials declared a local state of emergency, which could allow for state and federal funds to help cover some of the costs associated with responding to the blaze.
Former Ghost Ship Residents Describe Poor Living Conditions
In addition to being a site for dance parties and concerts, the "Ghost Ship" building was reportedly an illegal residence for between 20 and 25 artists, including musicians, dancers and woodworkers. Former residents, however, described a building beset with problems, including frequently having no electricity or running water. Authorities had been called to the building in the past to investigate dangerous living conditions and problems with drugs, but the building was allowed to remain open.
As recently as mid-November, 2016, a city inspector attempted to gain access to the building to investigate complaints about an illegal residence, but was unable to gain entry to the "Ghost Ship," and left. In fact, the warehouse had reportedly not been inspected for at least 30 years.
Victims of Oakland Warehouse Fire Remembered by Loved Ones
The families of those who were killed in the Oakland warehouse fire are now left remembering their loved ones in the wake of the tragedy, and asking how such a disaster could have happened. Included in the dead is 22-year-old Cash Askew, who played guitar in a musical duo and was part of a community of artists who could regularly be found at the "Ghost Ship."
"I need the world to know how incredible she was," said Askew's girlfriend, Anya Taylor. "I loved her more than anything in the world."
Also killed in the fire was 35-year-old Alex Ghassan, a filmmaker who had recently moved to Oakland from New York. Ghassan worked as a freelance producer and director, and had two young daughters. Just before the fire broke out, Ghassan reportedly posted a video of the concert.
"He always wanted to be remembered by his work, so let's celebrate him and his work," Ghassan's mother said.
Officials reported that two people who died in the fire were found holding each other, protecting each other. Those two people were 20-year-old Michela Gregory and her 22-year-old boyfriend, Alex Vega. The two had been together about five years and attended the concert together. These are just four of the 36 lives that were tragically ended at the Oakland warehouse fire.
Charges Not Yet Laid in Fire
Investigators have not yet said whether Chor Ng, the woman who owns the "Ghost Ship," or Derick Ion Almena, the man who founded the artists' colony that was housed in the warehouse, will face charges for the deaths. Ng was reportedly given a citation in November 2016 for dangerous trash and debris around the building.
Among the potential charges linked to the Oakland warehouse fire are anything from involuntary manslaughter to murder. Officials and former residents of the building have said the warehouse was unsafe and witnesses say Almena was repeatedly confronted about the living conditions in the "Ghost Ship."
Oakland Blaze the Deadliest Since 2003
The Oakland warehouse fire is the deadliest fire in the U.S. since a 2003 nightclub fire in Rhode Island took the lives of 100 people. That fire, the fourth deadliest on U.S. soil, occurred when fireworks used by the band Great White set fire to foam inside the club, called The Station. In addition to the 100 people killed, more than 200 were injured.
In August 2016, seven people died and dozens more were injured in an explosion at a Washington D.C. apartment complex. Residents reportedly complained about a gas smell at the building for days before the explosion.