News

Oakland mayor reports history of complaints about "Ghost Ship" warehouse

36 bodies recovered; all but one identified

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said Tuesday night that 30 years of records for the "Ghost Ship" warehouse at 1315 31st Ave., and a neighboring vacant lot at 1305 31st Ave., will be made public after a tragic fire that killed at least 36 people Friday night.

Schaaf said the warehouse was the subject of two complaints in 2014 and one in 2015. On Sept. 30, 2014, there was a complaint about pallets and construction materials blocking a sidewalk and on Dec. 8, 2014, there was a complaint about construction of a structure or house without a permit.

On Nov. 16, 2015, the mayor said, there was a complaint about a vacant lot being used as a parking lot in a homeless camping ground.

Schaaf said the separate parcel at 1305 31st Ave. received 18 complaints dating back to 1988, with 16 of those occurring between 1988 and 2014 and two this year.

On Nov. 14 there was a complaint about an illegal interior building structure and on Nov. 13 there was a complaint about garbage piling up, items left on the sidewalk and a storage area being turned into a trash recycle site.

When Schaaf was asked if there was a systematic failure by public officials to crack down on the warehouse's owners and managers, Schaaf said: "I'm not prepared to draw any conclusions" at this time and said police officers that responded to complaints at the site aren't trained in zoning laws."

Asked if inspectors should have pushed harder to get inside the warehouse to look at the building, Schaaf said, "It's not my job to second guess decisions made by inspectors."

Schaaf said protocol calls for inspectors who are denied entry to a building to investigate a complaint to then send a request to the building owner to be allowed inside and she said inspectors did make such a request before the deadly fire.

Alameda County sheriff's spokesman Sgt. J.D. Nelson said 36 bodies have been recovered so far and of those all but one have been identified.

Nelson said family members of 30 of the 35 identified victims have been notified so far and the five other families are being notified Tuesday night.

He said authorities will need to use dental records or DNA to identify the victim who hasn't yet been identified.

Nelson said he hopes that no more bodies will be found at the site and coroner's officials have left the scene.

Oakland Fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed said Oakland officials have proclaimed a local state of emergency which they expect will be ratified by the City Council on Dec. 8.

She said that will make the city eligible for state and federal funds to assist residents and businesses that have been affected by the fire.

Schaaf said the city wants to prevent additional mass casualty fires from happening in the future and is working on improving building codes and inspection procedures. She said details of that effort will be announced at a news conference at the city's emergency operations center today.

Reed said the origin and cause the fire remain undetermined, four days after the tragic event.

Reed's comments seemed to contradict Special Agent in Charge Jill Snyder of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, who said earlier Tuesday that a refrigerator near the back of the building was a possible ignition source.

However, Snyder said the cause has not been conclusively determined and investigators are continuing to search through the wreckage and are looking at other appliances and electrical outlets as a possible source for the blaze.

Snyder said there is no indication at this point that the fire was intentionally set but Reed declined to confirm that Tuesday night.

Reed also contradicted Deputy Fire Chief Darin White, who said earlier Tuesday that crews have searched about 90 percent of the burned-out

wreckage in the building. Reed said Tuesday night that crews have only searched about 80 percent of the building and still need to look at 20 percent of the remains.

Tuesday night the Alameda County coroner's bureau reported it had identified nine additional victims of Friday night's three-alarm fire that took 36 lives during a party at the Ghost Ship warehouse space in Oakland.

Oakland residents Billy Dixon, 35, Johnny Igaz, 34, Ara Jo, 29, Vanessa Plotkin, 21, and Nicole Siegrist, 29, have all been confirmed to have

been killed in the fire and their families have been notified, according to the coroner.

Amanda Kershaw, a 34-year-old San Francisco resident, 23-year-old Griffin Madden from Berkeley, 22-year-old Alex Vega from San Bruno and 32-year-old Hanna Ruax from Helsinki, Finland, have also been confirmed dead.

Other victims that have been previously identified by the coroner include Oakland residents Cash Askew, Em Bohlka, David Cline, Micah Danemayer, Alex Ghassan, Travis Hough, Donna Kellogg, Edmond Lapine, Benjamin Runnels and Jennifer Kiyomi Tanouye.

Chelsea Dolan of San Francisco, Nick Gomez-Hall of Coronado, Michela Gregory of South San Francisco, Sara Hoda of Walnut Creek, Jennifer Morris of Foster City, Riley Fritz of Berkeley and Brandon Chase Wittenauer of Hayward have also been officially identified.

While first responders have not completed their search of the building, previous preliminary searches, including using trained dogs, indicate that there may not be any more victims found. While most of the 36 victims have at least been tentatively identified, some will require scientific identification so their names might not be officially confirmed for some time.

The three-alarm fire broke out during a performance of Golden Donna 100% Silk 2016 West Coast Tour.

Interior photos showed a makeshift second floor in the building with wood nailed all around it and numerous items decorating the inside.

Firefighters said attendees had difficulty finding their way out of the space, either because of the crowded interior or narrow staircase from the second floor. The fire may have started with a refrigerator, according to investigators.

Bay City News Service

— Bay City News Service

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