Friday night in Oakland turned tragic after a fire claimed 36 lives. The fire started on the first floor around 11:30pm on Friday night, just as a concert began above. Concert goers reportedly believed the smoke was part of the event, but realized it was an actual fire as smoke filled the warehouse. Victims struggled to escape, impeded by obstructions and lack of light.
There were several potential safety violations that may have increased the number of victims, including a staircase made of pallets, illegal wiring, and missing fire sprinklers. The building was also part of an ongoing city code enforcement investigation at the time of the fire. The concert sponsor had also not obtained a permit from the city for the event. There was no fire escape available, and both stairway exits were blocked by smoke.
The fire is being investigated by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department, Oakland Police Department, Alameda County District Attorney, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. They have not yet determined a cause.
At this point, investigators are not ruling out arson.
“When you have the amount of victims that we have, you don’t rule anything out,” Kelly said. “People want answers. People want to know that the investigation into this fire is very thorough.”
Searchers painstakingly sifted through the rubble of the building through the night. They described it as a horrific scene of destruction, with many concertgoers unable to flee when the fire broke out (Los Angeles Times, 4 Dec 2016).
Recovery of the victims and the investigation have been impeded by the fear of building collapse. As of Monday morning, the identified victims include Cash Askew, David Cline, Travis Hough, Donna Kellogg, Sara Hoda, Brandon Chase Wittenauer, Nick Gomez-Hall, and a 17-year old victim whose name will not be released. Families of the missing have been asked to bring in items that contain DNA, such as toothbrushes, or dental records to help identify the victims.
The fire reminds us of a case we worked on where 24 people died in a Los Angeles apartment fire on Sunset Blvd. We successfully argued that if the building owner had followed proper safety precautions, lives would not have been lost. The event triggered major changes in the Los Angeles fire code including automatic sprinklers and fire doors activated by smoke detectors.