At least 33 people were killed in a fire that destroyed a warehouse that housed an artists’ collective in Oakland, California. The fire, one of the deadliest in the US in a decade, broke out during an electronic dance party late on Friday night, and quickly spread to engulf the entire building.
Known as the Oakland Ghost Ship, the warehouse has been described as a warren of studios, filled with sculptures, canvases, antiques, rugs and furniture. The building had been under investigation by city officials for safety violations, and was zoned to serve as a warehouse only, not as a living or event space. The party was held on an unpermitted second floor, with the only exit being a makeshift staircase built from old shipping pallets, which collapsed during the fire, trapping dozens of people. Residents also said that the building had regular electrical problems, and they had asked the owner to upgrade the system. Officials have launched a criminal investigation into the fire.
Most of the warehouse’s tenants were artists, musicians and other creatives who were looking for a like-minded community and affordable rent in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the technology industry boom has caused housing prices to skyrocket.
The warehouse two “master tenants” that leased the building and allegedly sublet spaces to others were Derick Ion Almena and Micah Allison, who reportedly lived there with their three children. Following the fire, Almena posted on Facebook: “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.” The post quickly received thousands of outraged comments, blaming Almena for the unsafe conditions and his apparent disregard for the lives lost in the blaze.