Responders to last weekend’s Oakland, California, warehouse fire have identified nearly all bodies recovered and do not anticipate a significant spike in the death toll, officials said Monday afternoon.
Of the 36 bodies recovered in the fire, which broke out during an electronic dance party around 11:30 p.m. on Friday, officials have been able to “tentatively identify” 33 of them, Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern said around 2:30 p.m. local time.
The city has publicly identified seven of the victims.
The debris removal process is about 75 percent complete, Oakland Deputy Fire Chief Darin White said.
While there are about 50 people unaccounted for, Ahern noted, many of those names were called in by people who hadn’t heard from loved ones who frequent the area, not necessarily people known to be at the event.
“At this time we’re not anticipating any more huge numbers” of victims confirmed, he said.
His office has completed 22 autopsies and notified 16 victims’ families. They also notified the embassies of three victims visiting from Finland, Korea and Guatemala.
While the cause of the fire remains unknown, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley has activated a criminal investigation team to determine whether there is any criminal liability attached to fire, and if so, against whom.
“Several people have already been interviewed,” she confirmed. “[W]e have a very big team that’s working on it full time.”
Past tenants of the warehouse, which was not zoned for events or residential use but was housing several artists full-time, have pointed to the myriad fire safety issues present on the site. “Ghost Ship,” as occupants called it, had no sprinkler system and was cluttered with accidents waiting to happen: exposed electrical wires covering the stairs, propane tanks heating showers, and rotating residents who brought in “jerry-rigged generators, hot plates and space heaters,” The San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Those with ties to the tragedy are pressing for explanations about why the city, the warehouse’s owner and the leaseholder allowed those conditions to persist. While city building inspectors responded to complaints of trash piling up outside the warehouse last month, they were unable to gain access to the interior and had not yet returned for a follow-up attempt.
Artists and activists have also pressed Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf to address how the lack of affordable housing options may be forcing low-income residents to seek out unsanctioned and often unsafe living conditions like Ghost Ship.
“In the days and weeks ahead, we are going to have many conversations about what we have learned from this incident, what in fact happened in this incident and how do we move forward as a city with the experience that we’ve just had,” she said.
“The issue that many American cities have communities that once were full of industrial blue-collar jobs that are now transitioning to other uses this is one we are going to be grappling with in the days ahead,” she continued.