Over the weekend, an electronic music show in the DIY warehouse venue known as “Ghost Ship” in Oakland, California turned into a nightmarish inferno, after a fire broke out in the building and trapped partygoers inside. The building, which officially operated as an artists’ collective/studio space but had people living there illegally, had multiple building code violations—chief of which was the lack of an official stairway to the second floor, only a makeshift staircase made of wooden pallets, which fire officials say contributed to the high death toll. As of this morning, the Alameda County district attorney’s office is launching a criminal investigation of the fire alongside the Alameda County sheriff and Oakland police, according to The Los Angeles Times.
The death toll, initially reported as nine people, has now officially risen to 36, as firefighters slowly comb through the charred remains of the building. Rescue teams had to halt their search Sunday night due to fears of an unstable exterior wall collapsing; 30 percent of the building has yet to be searched, according to CNN. Dozens of people are still missing, and Alameda County sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Ray Kelly says the death toll is likely to rise. Officials have asked loved ones of the missing to locate personal items, like hairbrushes, that contain DNA to help in identifying remains, and say the process could continue for several more weeks.
As it stands, this is the deadliest building fire in the U.S. in more than a decade. The Los Angeles Times has released the names of seven of the victims, with an eighth withheld because the victim was underage. Their names are:
Cash Askew, 22, David Cline, 23, Travis Hough, 35, and Donna Kellogg, 32, all of Oakland; Sara Hoda, 30, of Walnut Creek, Calif.; Brandon Chase Wittenauer, 32, of Hayward, Calif.; and Nick Gomez-Hall, 25, of Coronado, Calif.
Authorities are expected to release the names of more of the victims after families have been notified. Memorials to the victims have been erected outside of the remains of Ghost Ship as well as online, and a YouCaring campaign to benefit the victims of the fire has raised more than $92,000 so far, with the Oakland A’s and Oakland Raiders providing matching donations of $50,000 each.
This morning, President Obama released a statement on the tragedy, saying:
Today our prayers go out to the people of Oakland, California in the aftermath of this weekend’s deadly warehouse fire - one of the worst fires in the state’s history. 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. I want to thank the dedicated first responders who have been working tirelessly for days to contain the situation, recover victims, and treat the wounded. My Administration is in close contact with our state and local partners on the ground to make sure that authorities have everything they need as they continue response operations and investigate the cause of the fire. 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.