Oakland fire: Many complaints filed about warehouse

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Dozens have been confirmed dead in a massive blaze that gutted a converted warehouse on Friday, December 2, during an electronic dance party in Oakland, California.

OAKLAND, California (CNN) – The city of Oakland received repeated complaints over the years about the Ghost Ship warehouse, where 36 people were killed in a fire last week.

The site, along with an adjacent lot, had become cluttered with old cars, oil containers, pests and trash, according to those complaints.

Many of the 10 complaints were directed at the lot, pointing to a “ton of garbage piling up on the property” as well as the “illegal interior building structure” at the warehouse, according to city records released Tuesday.

The site had been damaged in a fire in 1988, but additional information on that incident was not immediately available.

The most recent complaints had been filed three weeks before Friday’s fire.

The building’s owner, Chor N. Ng, received a citation in November for hazardous trash and debris surrounding the building. Officials had also received complaints of illegal construction on the property.

“Some of the trash was hazardous,” read a complaint dated November 13. “The yard became a trash collection site and the main building was remodel for residential.”

Friday night’s blaze broke out during an electronic dance party, killing dozens who could not escape from the dilapidated two-story warehouse — known locally as the Ghost Ship.

More records about the warehouse and the lot are being collected by various city departments and will be released, according to Oakland authorities.

How fire started still unknown

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, Oakland Fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed said Tuesday.

A search of the building was completed Wednesday, and no additional victims were found, officials said.

There is no evidence the fire was deliberately set, said Jill Snyder, special agent in charge with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ San Francisco field division.

Ghost Ship manager: ‘I’m incredibly sorry’

Derick Almena, the building’s leaseholder, has come under widespread scrutiny after former tenants and visitors reported unsafe conditions, such as fires sparked by faulty electrical cords.

Almena has not responded to CNN’s request for comment. But in a Tuesday interview with NBC’s “Today” show, Almena apologized to the victims’ families and vehemently defended himself, saying he would have never intentionally endangered any of his tenants.

“I’m only here to say one thing: That I am incredibly sorry,” he told “Today.”

“Everything I did was to make this a stronger, more beautiful community.”

Almena denounced accusations that he spent more money on parties at the warehouse than on repairs.

“I don’t want to talk about me. I don’t want to talk about profiting. This is profit? The loss of mass life?” he said.

“I’m a father. I laid my three children down there every night.”

It’s not clear whether anyone will face criminal charges. Authorities are trying to determine whether there’s any criminal liability and — if so — who is responsible, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said.

A communal space

The Ghost Ship was a coveted haven in the Bay Area’s gentrifying landscape of skyrocketing rents and disappearing artist spaces. Residents estimate 20 to 25 artists lived there.

Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, who is from Oakland, wrote on Instagram that he had many years ago “lived in warehouses and communal spaces like Ghost ship. . ..”

“… (T)hose were some of the best and most fulfilling times in my life. living with other weirdos, artists, activists, and musicians.. spaces like this allow the strange ones to thrive and be the people that normal society rejects.

“(W)e inspired each other, laughed together, and created new friends and family we didn’t know existed. The city of oakland provided that for me and my closest friends,” he posted with a photo from a Monday night vigil.

The warehouse was to be used only as a commercial space and had not received any residential or public assembly permits. City officials didn’t sign off on a special permit for the Friday event, said Darin Ranelletti, Oakland’s interim director of planning and building,

Firefighters found no evidence of sprinklers in the warehouse.

Oakland officials are seeking to declare a local emergency to get state and federal funding. That request will go before the City Council during a special meeting Thursday.

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