Fires

Oakland warehouse fire: Two charged with manslaughter in blaze that killed 36

Two men have been charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection with December's Ghost Ship warehouse fire that killed three dozen partygoers in Oakland, Calif. 

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley told reporters that Derick Almena and Max Harris "knowingly created a firetrap with inadequate means of escape" on the night of Dec. 2, 2016, when the deadly blaze broke out during a dance party. 

Almena and Harris were both arrested earlier Monday. Almena was apprehended in Lake County, north of the Bay Area. Harris, who also goes by the name Max Ohr, was taken into custody in Los Angeles County.

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O'Malley said that each defendant could face up to 39 years in prison if convicted on all counts. 

The district attorney claimed that Almena and Harris blocked one way out of the building, "leaving only one way to get out of the second floor."

"The paying guests at the event were faced with a nearly impossible labyrinth of the defendants’ making to get out of that building," O'Malley said. "Their actions amount to disregard for human life."

Prosecutors say so much evidence was destroyed in the blaze that a specific cause of the fire will likely never be known.

Court documents show Almena was the primary tenant and rented space to as many as 25 people to live and work in the building licensed only as a warehouse.

Almena allowed Harris to live there, calling him the "creative director," who was in charge of collecting rent, mediating disputes and dealing with the building owner. Harris is accused of renting the upstairs to a dance party promoter on the night of the fire.

Between November 2013 and December 2016, police showed up at the warehouse multiple times to check on complaints but Almena and Harris often met police outside the warehouse and told officers that no one lived there, records show.

Kyndra Miller and Jeffrey Krasnoff, attorneys who represent Almena, did not immediately return phone messages Monday. It's not known if Harris is represented by an attorney.

Relatives of half the victims who died in the fire have filed wrongful death lawsuits against Chor Nar Siu Ng, the building's owner, and Almena, who held the lease. The lawsuits also name Pacific Gas & Electric, alleging the utility should have known the warehouse was wired hazardously.

Almena quickly became the focal point of widespread anger and criticism after the fire. Past residents of the warehouse accused Almena of ignoring hazardous living conditions and putting profits over safety. Visitors described the structure as a warren of scrap wood, sofas, old pianos and snaking electrical cables.

Hours after the fire, Almena posted a comment to his Facebook page that stoked the anger.

"Everything I worked for is gone," Almena posted.

Almena later said he didn't know people had died when he posted the comment.

Four days after the fire, Almena gave a brief, rambling interview with NBC's Today show. He was asked about charging for concerts and subleasing space.

"Profit?" Almena asked host Matt Lauer rhetorically. "This is not profit, this is loss. This is a mass grave. I'm only here to say one thing, that I am incredibly sorry and that everything I did was to make this a stronger, more beautiful community and to bring people together."

Lauer cut the interview short after Almena became combative when asked if he should be held responsible for the deaths.

Almena also lived in the warehouse with his wife and three young children, but was staying the night in a nearby hotel the night of the fire.

Read more from KTVU.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.