The Oakland Warehouse Party Fire Is Now The Deadliest In A Decade

Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez/ AP Photo.
A woman, wishing to not be identified, cries at the scene of a warehouse fire in Oakland, California.
The death toll in a massive fire at an Oakland warehouse party over the weekend has grown to 36 — and authorities say they expect that number to rise.

Flames tore through the building, known as the "Ghost Ship," during a dance party Friday night. The cluttered warehouse had been converted into artists' studios and illegal living spaces, and former denizens said it was a death trap of piled wood, furniture, snaking electrical cords and only two exits.

It was the most lethal building fire in the U.S. in more than a decade.

Authorities have identified 11 of the bodies but withheld some of the names. Those whose identities were yet to be released included a 17-year-old and the son of a sheriff's deputy, authorities said.

Since the fire, survivors and friends of those who perished have placed flowers on several small memorials. Bouquets of sunflowers, single white roses, lilies, and carnations were stuck in chain-link fences. Votive candles burned on sidewalks, and Post-it notes paid tribute to the missing and the dead.

Kai Thomas and a group of red-eyed classmates from an arts high school in San Francisco pressed against police tape Sunday near the street corner where the "Ghost Ship" rapidly went up in flames, taking the life of a friend.

Three of the boys had been in the cramped and dark building, Thomas said, but one got separated from them 30 seconds before someone yelled, "Fire."

"It was just really smoky and hard to see," said Thomas, a high school junior who wasn't there, but recounted what he had been told by two others who didn't want to speak. "They jumped off the second-floor balcony and ran out."

The boys waited for their 17-year-old friend for more than three hours, but he never emerged.

The building had been carved into artist studios and visitors and former denizens said it was a cluttered death trap, piled with scrap wood, a mess of snaking electric cords and only two exits.

Lists of the missing circulated, as many living in the Bay Area took to Facebook to mark themselves as "safe," or to check on the status of a friend. Many of those who had been unable to reach friends in the past two days had given up hope when authorities said people either escaped without injury or died inside.

Authorities would not answer questions about the couple that operated the Satya Yuga collective. They were identified as Derick Ion Almena and Micah Allison. Both were believed to have been out of the building at the time of the blaze.

Almena had leased the space from its owner and then rented five recreational vehicles and other nooks on the ground floor as living spaces, said Danielle Boudreaux, a former friend of Almena and Allison. They held regular concerts and dance parties, like the one Friday, to make money, Boudreaux said.

Shelley Mack was drawn there by the promise of living among artists and paying a reasonable rent in an area where the tech boom has created a housing shortage and exorbitant leases. She left after a few months, two years ago, when the place failed to live up to its promises.

"Some people were happy to have a roof over their head even though there was no heat or no place to eat, or that it was filthy and infested," Mack said. "You just get sucked in because it seems like it's this nice place and this artistic community and they talk a good game. There are people there that wanted to be there and believed in it. And I think I did, too, for a little bit. And then…afterward, I was like, um no."

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