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Criminal Investigation Launched into Cause of Deadly Oakland Warehouse Blaze

The death toll at the Ghost Ship fire is 36 and expected to rise.

by Anna Codrea-Rado
Dec 5 2016, 4:20pm

Photo by Seung Y. Lee

A criminal investigation has been launched into the cause of the fire at a warehouse party in Oakland that left at least 36 people dead this weekend.

At a press conference this morning the Oakland Battalion Chief, Melinda Drayton, said that the death toll of the fire at the Ghost Ship venue in the Fruitvale neighborhood has risen to 36 and that it could rise higher still.

"We absolutely believe the number of fatalities will increase," Chief Drayton said.

Eleven of the victims have now been identified; a 17-year-old is among the dead, who was the son of a deputy from the Alameda County Sheriff's Department.

The Mayor of Oakland, Libby Schaaf, said last night at a press conference that the Alameda County District Attorney has started an investigation into the cause of the fire, which is still unknown. The fire broke out during a 100% Silk label party on Friday night at around 11:30 PM and blazed into the early hours of Saturday morning.

Venus X, RVNG Intl, and More Join Fundraiser Effort for Oakland Fire

Chief Drayton told ABC News that they believe it started at the back of the building. Chief Drayton said that about 70% of the building has been searched so far and that firefighters will continue to search the rest of it today, once the building is deemed stable enough for first responders to reenter it.

President Obama released a statement today about the fire. "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." He went on to thank the first responders in working tirelessly to recover the victims. "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," he said.

Captain Melanie Ditzenberger of the Alameda County Coroner's Bureau requested yesterday that families of the missing "preserve sources of DNA" such as combs and toothbrushes for the identification process.

Members of the electronic music community, including Brooklyn-based label RVNG Intl and GHE20G0TH1K founder Venus X, have joined the fundraising effort for the victims of the fire, and a YouCaring relief fund has been set up to receive online donations.

The leaseholder of the Ghost Ship venue, Derick Ion Almena, 46, has come under scrutiny after he wrote a since-deleted Facebook post that many felt to be insensitive about the fire. Speaking to ABC 7 News, Almena said: "[The victims are] my children. They're my friends, they're my family, they're my loves, they're my future."

According to city records, the building had numerous violations, including an open charge from November 14 for "illegal interior building structure." A former resident told the Guardian that they had reported the building to the fire marshal in 2014 because of fears it was vulnerable to fire.

Oakland residents and tenants' rights activists told the Guardian that the tragic fire was "a symptom of a major affordability crisis and the long-term failure of urban housing policy to protect the most vulnerable people."