Fires

Oakland warehouse fire death toll rises to 36; number expected to grow

Authorities have launched criminal investigation

 

The search for victims of a deadly fire that engulfed a warehouse in Oakland, Calif., entered its third day Monday as the death toll grew to 36.

Investigators said during a news conference that they expected the number to rise; however, recovery efforts were halted due to unstable conditions inside the building. So far, about 70 percent of the warehouse has been searched.

“We absolutely believe the number of fire fatalities will increase,” Oakland Fire Battalion Chief Melinda Drayton said.

“My Administration is in close contact with our state and local partners on the ground to make sure that authorities have everything they need as they continue response operations and investigate the cause of the fire. Oakland is one of the most diverse and creative cities in our country, and as families and residents pull together in the wake of this awful tragedy, they will have the unwavering support of the American people,” President Obama said in a statement Monday.

Eleven victims have been positively identified, but only seven names have been released to the public.

A spokesperson for the city’s police department said officials wanted to give family members time to grieve and tell others before releasing the victims’ names.

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The seven other victims were identified as Cash Askew, 22, of Oakland; David Clines, 35, of Oakland; Nick Gomez-Hall, 25, of Coronado, Calif; Sara Hoda, 30, of Walnut Creek, Calif.; Travis Hough, 35, of Oakland; Donna Kellogg, 32, of Oakland; and Brandon Chase Wittenauer, 32, of Hayward, Calif.

Work inside has stopped at the scene for now because one wall is leaning several inches inward, posing a potential safety hazard for firefighters and police officers who have been searching the structure.

Drayton said they hoped to have an engineering solution later Monday and go back inside the building in the early afternoon.

“For us as firefighters, working under a wobbly, potentially collapsing exterior wall is extremely dangerous,” she added. “We will not put our firefighters in danger at this point… and have not been continuing with body recovery since.”

Investigators also said they believed they located the section of the building where they fire started, but the cause remained unknown. They asked for patience as they continued the investigation.

The fire erupted at the warehouse known as “Ghost Ship,” during a dance party late Friday night.

A man identified as Derick Ion, who was said to be the building's ownder, faced backlash after sharing a Facebook post in which he allegedly lamented what he had lost during the fire.

“Confirmed. Everything I worked so hard for is gone. Blessed that my children and Micah were at a hotel safe and sound,” the post read. “… It’s as it I have woken from a dream filled with opulence and hope…to be standing now in poverty of self worth.”

The post has since been deleted.

Public records show Ion's full name is Derick Ion Almena and that he has lived in California since at least 1990, mostly in Los Angeles, before moving to Oakland in 2006.

The district attorney's sent a team to search for signs of a crime in the warehouse that was already under investigation by the city for possible code violations. The space was permitted only as a warehouse, and neighbors had complained of trash piling up and people living there illegally.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.