Home / National News / What We Know So Far About the Oakland Warehouse Fire Investigation

 

(OAKLAND, Calif.) — Investigators are working to determine whether there was criminal liability, and if so, against whom, regarding the horrific blaze in Oakland, California that claimed the lives of 36 men and women over the weekend.

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley has said that if charges are brought, they could range from murder to involuntary manslaughter, but there is no guarantee that this will happen.

Here is what we know about the ongoing investigation into the fire:

The Ghost Ship

“The Ghost Ship,” as the warehouse was called by some, was purportedly run by a married couple, Derick Ion Almena, and Micah Allison, but owned by Chor Nar Siu Ng, a woman who appeared to have little involvement with its usage as a place for artist studios and a performance space for musicians. Neighbors and occupants of the warehouse told the Associated Press that Almena, who often went by the name Derick Ion, illegally carved the warehouse into what it became prior to the fire.

It is possible that the building may not have cleared safety standards, or been properly inspected, but no official statement has been made by authorities regarding these possibilities.

Oakland police said that they have responded to numerous calls about the warehouse in the past, but it is unclear how many. It is also unknown whether or not Ion, Allison, or Ng will be held accountable by authorities for the death toll created by the fire.

The last permitted use of the building was as a warehouse, according to the City of Oakland. The city said it received complaints of blight and unpermitted interior construction at the building on November 13, 2016. A few days later, on November 17, 2016, a City building inspector visited the property and verified the blight complaint, but could not gain access to the building to confirm the other complaint regarding unpermitted construction.

ABC affiliate KGO-TV reached out to Ion for comment on Sunday.

“They’re my children. They’re my friends, they’re my family, they’re my loves, they’re my future. What else do I have to say?” Almena he told the station.

Ion appeared to address the fire in a Facebook post early on Saturday morning by saying that what he worked for was destroyed, but failed to elaborate on what work he put into the warehouse prior to the fire.

“Confirmed. Everything I worked so hard for is gone. Blessed that my children and Micah were at a hotel safe and sound … it’s as if I have awoken from a dream filled with opulence and hope … to be standing now in poverty of self worth,” he wrote.

A Wall of Fire

As many as 100 people were at Ghost Ship for a party on Friday night when what authorities described as an “electrical fire” broke out just before midnight.

Electrical fires can be caused by any number of problems, ranging from faulty electrical sockets to damaged wiring, but no specifics have emerged to determine what may have initially sparked it. No allegations of arson have surfaced in the days following the doomed party, but possibility hasn’t been ruled out.

Darin Ranelletti, who is serving as the interim director of the city Planning and Building Department, told the press that the party required a permit, which he said was not obtained.

Survivors of the inferno recall fifteen feet of flames and billowing smoke so powerful that it opened a window, letting in oxygen that apparently intensified the blaze.

Nikki Kelber, a resident of the warehouse, which housed artist studios, said she was asleep Friday night and “woke up to smoke and an entire wall of fire.”

Kelber was one of the lucky ones, as victims of the fire ultimately died of smoke inhalation, according to authorities.

Some victims texted messages to relatives such as, “I’m going to die” and “I love you,” according to Alameda County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Ray Kelly.

A Housing Crisis

Ranelletti also told the press that the warehouse is under investigation to determine whether or not it was used to house people illegally.

The Bay Area has among the highest costs of living of any region in the U.S., and housing costs and a lack of availability were among the chief concerns of those living there, according to a study by the Bay Area Council, a business-sponsored public policy advocacy group.

Oakland’s warehouses have become hubs for artists and musicians in recent years, according to residents who spoke to ABC News, largely because they can’t afford to live elsewhere.

Carol Crewdson, a friend of Sara Hoda, a Montessori school teacher who was one of the victims of the Ghost Ship fire, remembered her friend fondly in a conversation with ABC News. She frequently touched on the crisis of space that affected many of the Bay Area’s poor and young. Crewdson said she lived with Hoda in a house where people occupied spare bathrooms as bedrooms, and some occupants lived on the lawn.

Crewdson described some of Oakland’s buildings as functioning almost like shelters, where people live due to a lack of alternatives.

“There were a lot of people in tough situations just trying to make ends meet,” she said of the space she shared with her late friend.

It is unclear at this time how many people may have been living at Ghost Ship under illegal or unsafe conditions as of Friday night.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

 

Recent posts in National News