36 Dead in ‘Ghost Ship' Warehouse Fire in Oakland, Recovery Efforts Resume

The death toll in the warehouse fire is expected to continue rising as recovery crews search the rubble

The search for victims in the charred wreckage of an Oakland warehouse resumed on Monday after a brief break due to safety concerns, with 36 bodies recovered so far in what's become the city's deadliest blaze.  

Authorities have tentatively identified 33 of the bodies, officials said at a news conference Monday afternoon. The families of 16 victims have been notified and five more are pending notification that their loved ones were among the dozens killed.[[404855626, C]]

The death toll from the "Ghost Ship" warehouse that burned down Friday is expected to rise as firefighters continue a painstaking search for victims. Flames quickly consumed the converted East Oakland warehouse during a dance party, leaving the structure a mess of blistered wood and twisted steel.

Seventeen names have been released to the public, while many others were witheld so that families can take a moment to grieve, Alameda County Sheriff's Deputy Tya Modeste said at a news conference early Monday. One of the dead includes the son of a sheriff's deputy.[[404830256, C]]

Three of the victims were foreigners from Finland, Korea and Guatemala, officials said.[[404561696, C]]

The investigation into the fire and recovery of the bodies from the illegally converted warehouse on East 31st Avenue resumed Monday morning after it was temporarily suspended Sunday night because of an unstable wall that was deemed dangerous, Oakland Fire Battalion Chief Melinda Drayton said early Monday.

Drayton said Monday it appeared the "extremely hot fire" may have started in the back of the building and burned underneath the dance floor.

"We've got some areas where the steel is actually twisted and wrapped," she said.

Power was shut down at noon Monday to PG&E customers in the surrounding area so that a crane and large equiptment, which could hit power lines, could be moved to conduct work at the warehouse. It was expected to last for about 12 hours.[[404753755, C]]

The fire ripped through the warehouse on Friday about 11:30 p.m. and the cause remains unknown, but occupants saying the place was a "deathtrap," littered with junk, electrical wires and butane cooking tanks. Artists, musicians and mostly 20-somethings had gathered for an electronic dance party, one of countless such gatherings throughout Oakland over the years.

The warehouse was an artist's "labyrinth" full of art, wooden structures, tapestries, musical equipment and other relics. People had been illegally living and partying there, according to witness statements, interviews and records.

The blaze burned for hours and has cast a pall over the entire California Bay Area. Survivors described chaos inside the building as flames quickly burned through the two-story space. The power cut out and smoke filled the halls.

"I feel like it was 30 seconds from when I looked down the hall to when it was pretty much engulfed. It was so fast," warehouse resident Nikki Kelber recalled.

She and a friend, Carmen Brito, were able to get out of the building along with others.

"We all looked out for each other, we all helped each other," Brito said of the people who lived at the space.

President Barack Obama sent prayers Monday to the victims of the "awful tragedy" and their families, and said his administration was ready to assist local and state agencies.

"While we still don't know the full toll of this disaster, we do know that an American community has been devastated, and many people – including young men and women with their whole futures ahead of them – have tragically lost their lives," Obama said in a statement.

A criminal investigation was launched by the Alameda County District Attorney's Office on Sunday into possible criminal negligence.

District Attorney Nancy O'Malley said Monday her office has sent a team to search for evidence of a crime in the warehouse, but has not yet determined whether a crime even occurred. She said potential charges could range from involuntary manslaughter to murder.

O'Malley said anyone with information about the warehouse and the people living there can call a hotline the DA's Office has set up at 877-288-2882.

Many in the artist's community are now focusing their anger at Derick Ion Almena, the founder of the collective who escaped the fire. His wife and children were at a hotel when the fire broke out.

Almena also has a criminal history.

People had long complained to Almena that his enclave was unsafe, and he had simply laughed it off, according to many comments on a now-deleted Facebook post.

Immediately after the fire, he had written to lament the fact that "everything I had worked so hard for is gone." Facebook users excoriated him for not being sensitive to the loss of life.

On Monday, he sent a statement to NBC News that read: "In my previous Facebook post, I had no idea there was a loss of life. This tragic event consumes me every moment. My heart is broken. My heartfelt condolences to the family and friends who have suffered the loss of loved ones."

The deadliest fire in Oakland history until Friday, the Oakland Hills Firestorm, took place in 1991, when about 3,000 homes were destroyed and 25 people killed.

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