36 confirmed dead in Oakland warehouse fire

Louis LaVenture,

Family, friends and community members gathered near 1305 31st Avenue in East Oakland on Sunday night, the site of the horrific fire that claimed the lives of at least 36 people.

Alameda County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ray Kelly confirmed on Wednesday at a press conference that Alameda County fire and rescue crews had gone through the entire property that hosted an electronic dance music show on Friday night. Kelly also confirmed the search for survivors is over, with the total number of deaths 36.

According to a statement from the Oakland Fire Department, the cause of the fire is still being investigated, however, fire inspectors were able to determine it started on the first floor near the entrance.

The site is a converted warehouse called “Oakland Ghost Ship” and is known for its rustic theme. The warehouse was full of old furniture, decorations and other pieces of random memorabilia from floor to the ceiling that many attendees referred to as having a “pirate ship” theme. At least 15 people were confirmed to have been living there, according to Kelly.

Kelly said the death toll is expected to rise as crews to continue to search through the debris. The second story of the building collapsed, making things difficult to sift through. Kelly also said it could take weeks to identify all of the victims, and the department encouraged families to submit items with potential victims’ DNA on them, like tooth and hair brushes, to speed up the identification process.

Crews were forced to stop searching on Monday night because a wall of the warehouse was in danger of falling over and a crane had to be brought in to stabilize it, according to the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office.

The city of Oakland identified the first eight victims late Sunday night. One is a 17-year-old minor whose name will not be released. The rest have been identified as Cash Askew, 22, David Clines, 35, Donna Kellogg, 32, Travis Hough, 35, all from Oakland, Nick Gomez-Hall, 25, from Coronado, Sara Hoda, 30, from Walnut Creek and Brandon Chase Wittenauer, 32, from Hayward.

Oakland battalion Fire Chief Melinda Drayton said this was the most deadly fire in the city’s history, worse than the Oakland Hills fire in 1991 that killed 25 people.

“Firefighters have been sifting through debris bucket by bucket,” Drayton said. “We understand the sensitivity of this situation and are proceeding with caution and compassion.”

Drayton said even after firefighters put out the fire, the building was deemed unsafe for crews to enter. She also stated that the roof collapsed onto the second floor and parts of that collapsed on to the first floor.

Officials said proper fire safety standards, like emergency exits, fire alarms and an evacuation plan, were clearly lacking and believe the residents may not have even had proper permits for the show. Law enforcement officials blocked off the site for several blocks and a makeshift memorial was set up on two blocks from the building, where a steady flow of family, friends and concerned citizens have gathered over the past few days.

Gabriel Eibliawicz was a classmate and friend of one of the victims who said he heard the news from a friend. “I said bye to him on Friday and told him to have a good weekend,” Eibliawicz said. “This is so tragic, he was such a great guy.” Eibliawicz referred to the 17-year-old minor who has not been identified.

Salvador Torres lives on 31st Avenue near the site and despite not knowing any of the victims he said the tragedy has affected him and his family.

“Now everytime I see that building I’m gonna think about those poor people,” Torres said. “Everytime I leave or come home I’m reminded of them because police have to let us in the neighborhood.”

Torres said you used to be able to see the roof of the building from his backyard but now all you see is a burnt board sticking out from the top of the structure.

Neighbors in the surrounding areas have to be let in by law enforcement officials, primarily Oakland Police and Alameda County Sheriff’s officers who have been doing most of the perimeter security.