Recovery Effort Ends at Oakland Warehouse Fire; More Victims Identified

A woman holds a photo of her son during a vigil honoring those who died in a warehouse fire in Oakland on Dec. 2, 2016. The death toll from the massive weekend fire has shot up to 36 as authorities launched a criminal probe and pushed forth with recovery efforts. (Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

Update, 8 p.m. Wednesday: We’re learning more about the Ghost Ship warehouse in Oakland where a fire erupted last Friday during an event, killing 36 people in the nation’s deadliest blaze since 2003.

No inspector has been inside the warehouse for 30 years, said Darin Ranelletti, interim director of Oakland’s Planning and Building Department. Many complaints had been filed about the vacant lot next to the site, though only three had been lodged against the warehouse since 2005.

Ranelletti said his department advises inspectors not to ignore physically obvious violations on adjacent properties.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said that since the fire there has been a flood of complaints regarding other buildings. She outlined a raft of new measures –- and possible regulations –- that the city will take to step up fire safety and inspections.

New regulations under consideration include:

  • Smoke alarms and carbon monoxide monitors in commercial facilities
  • Enhanced fire inspections
  • Stronger emergency exit requirements
  • Permitting of events
  • Monitoring of illegal events

Schaaf said the National Fire Protection Association and the U.S. Fire Administration will help the city assemble a fire safety task force of national experts and local officials. She also said her office would continue working with the arts community to create safe, affordable homes and work spaces.

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“We have to be as compassionate as we were throughout these past few days as we forge a path forward,” she said in a statement.

The search and recovery efforts ended early Wednesday at the warehouse. Two additional victims of the blaze were named:

  • Jason McCarty, 35, Oakland
  • Wolfgang Renner, 61, Oakland

Update, 1 p.m. Wednesday: The top ATF official in San Francisco is providing additional updates on the fire at the Ghost Ship warehouse in Oakland last week that claimed 36 lives.

The fire appears to have begun on the first floor, traveling up a stairwell to the second floor where people had gathered for an event and trapping them, said Jill Snyder, special agent in charge of the San Francisco Field Division for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

"The occupants of the building were consumed by smoke before they were able to get out," she told a press conference.

It was the highest number of fire fatalities in the country in the last 13 years. Before that, the highest number was in 2003 at The Station nightclub in Rhode Island.

Neither of the two stairwells -- leading down from the second floor to the first -- led to an exit outside, she said.

She described the blaze as "rapid-fire progression."

"Initial witness interviews indicate that the fire was well-developed by the time the second-floor occupants realized that a fire was going on," she said.

No conclusions have been made about the source of the fire, she added: "We're looking at every possible source of ignition."

Original Post, 9:30 a.m. Wednesday:  Authorities released the names of another nine victims from the deadly fire that erupted at the Ghost Ship warehouse in Oakland last week, killing 36 people.

The release of additional identifications comes as the recovery effort ends at the site, The Associated Press reported, and investigators try to determine the cause and origin of the fire.

"There’s no evidence it was intentionally set, there’s no evidence of a lightning strike. So they’ll look for sources of ignition," said Jill Snyder, special agent in charge of the San Francisco office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

"Sources of ignition could be any kind of electrical appliance that’s in there, and they’ll examine all those potential sources of ignition for the fire," she added.

Authorities have identified 35 of 36 victims, and 30 families have been notified, said Alameda County Sheriff's Office spokesman Sgt. J.D. Nelson.

The nine identified Tuesday night are:

  • Billy Dixon, 35, Oakland
  • Johnny Igaz, 34, Oakland
  • Ara Jo, 29, Oakland
  • Amanda Kershaw, 34, San Francisco
  • Griffin Madden, 23, Berkeley
  • Vanessa Plotkin, 21, Oakland
  • Hanna Ruax, 32, Helsinki, Finland
  • Nicole Siegrist, 29, Oakland
  • Alex Vega, 22, San Bruno

The District Attorney's Office has launched a criminal investigation into the fire and is exploring two questions: Is any criminal liability attached to the blaze and if so, against whom?  Although it’s too early to speculate on possible charges, those could range from involuntary manslaughter to murder, depending on what the investigation reveals, DA Nancy O’Malley said.

The city had received complaints about the warehouse, Mayor Libby Schaaf said. Two complaints were made in 2014 and one in 2005. Another 18 complaints were made about the vacant lot next door to the warehouse over the last 30 years, she added.

"I'm not prepared to draw conclusions from the history," she said.

The city will release three decades of planning department records associated with the site, she added.

"It's an anguishing time," Rep. Barbara Lee said. "We will continue to do everything we can do."