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, as well as 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 the that 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.
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.
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.
The owner 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.”