Home / National News / Official: Oakland Warehouse Had Not Been Inspected in 30 Years


(OAKLAND, Calif.) — As investigators try to piece together what sparked a fatal fire last week at a warehouse in Oakland, California, the city planning and building department revealed that its inspectors had not been inside the ill-fated structure in decades.

The Oakland Planning and Building Department said it received various complaints about the property on 31st Avenue over the past 30 years, but most were about the neighboring vacant lot. Although inspectors visited the property as recently as last month, no one actually ventured inside the warehouse.

“In terms of the planning and building inspector, our records didn’t show that an inspector had been inside the building in 30 years,” Darin Ranelletti, interim director of the Oakland Planning and Building Department, told reporters Wednesday night, according to ABC affiliate KGO. “That means that we had no applications for permits in the past 30 years and there were no violations that were submitted for interior work within the main building that can be attributed to that street address.”

As many as 100 people were at the warehouse, known as the Ghost Ship, for a concert party when what authorities described as an “electrical fire” erupted just before midnight on Dec. 2 and left dozens dead. Oakland Fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed said the structure appeared to function as a residential building that hosted a makeshift artists’ studio, as well as parties like the one that took place that night. Most of the victims were found on the second floor, according to Reed.

Officials announced Wednesday morning that the search for bodies in the rubble of the charred structure had concluded, with the death toll remaining at 36 — the highest number of fatalities in a fire in the United States in 13 years. Authorities began reopening streets in and around the scene on Wednesday as the security perimeter gradually contracted.

The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office Coroner’s Bureau has identified most of the victims, many of whom were in their 20s and 30s. The name of one 17-year-old victim will not be released.

Jill Snyder, special agent in charge of the San Francisco office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), which is supporting local authorities in the ongoing investigation, said there is no evidence that the warehouse was equipped with smoke detectors when the horrific blaze broke out around 11:32 p.m. local time. Investigators are still trying to determine what caused the fire, but Snyder said the flames appear to have started on the first floor and a refrigerator is being examined as a possible source.

“ATF is looking at every possible source of ignition,” Snyder said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon. “There is no timeline for the conclusion of the investigation. ATF experts will be on scene for possibly several more days examining physical evidence. The analysis of data and interviews may take several weeks.”

Snyder said the possibility that the fire was arson is not being ruled out.

According to Snyder, there were stairwells at either side inside the warehouse that led from the first floor to the second, and officials have said at least one of them was a makeshift staircase assembled with various materials. But there were no exits to the exterior on the second floor, Snyder said. The flames blocked the building’s only exit and smoke billowed up the stairways, trapping dozens of party-goers on the second floor.

The power went out inside the building when the fire started, making it even more difficult for people inside to escape, an official briefed on the ongoing investigation told ABC News.

Survivors of the inferno who spoke to ABC News recalled waking up to “smoke and an entire wall of fire” that was so powerful it opened a window, letting in oxygen that apparently intensified the flames.

On Tuesday night Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf declared a local state of emergency to facilitate state and federal aid.

Ranelletti of the Oakland Planning and Building Department told reporters that the party at the Ghost Ship required a permit, which he said had not been obtained. The property is under investigation to determine whether it was used to house people illegally, he said.

On Nov. 14, a city notice shows an “investigation pending” for “illegal interior building structure.” A day prior to that, the building’s owner was notified of a code violation. The records say “a ton of garbage [is] piling up on the property,” including “hazardous” trash.

The last permitted use of the building was as a warehouse, according to a press release from the City of Oakland. The city said it received complaints of blight and unpermitted interior construction at the building this year on Nov. 13. Days later, a city building inspector visited the property on Nov. 17 and verified the blight complaint, but could not gain access to the building to confirm the other complaint regarding unpermitted construction. The investigation is ongoing, the city said.

The Ghost Ship is purportedly run by a married couple, Derick Ion Almena and Micah Allison, but the building is owned by Chor Nar Siu Ng, a woman who appeared to have little involvement with its use for artists’ studios and as a performance space for musicians.

“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 told ABC affiliate KGO on Sunday.

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

The Oakland Police Department said that officers have responded to numerous calls about the warehouse in the past, but it is unclear how many. It is also unknown whether authorities will hold Almena, Allison or Ng accountable for the deaths in the fire.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Recent posts in National News