Oakland warehouse fire: Death toll at Ghost Ship now 36

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OAKLAND (KTVU) -- Alameda County Coroner released the names of 10 additional victims of the Ghost Ship fire from last Friday in Oakland's Fruitvale District. Monday night (additional names at the bottom of this post). 

Officials said that three of the victims were international and that 33 of the 36 victims have been positively identified.

Officials said the three international victims were from Finland, Guatemala and Korea. Their identities were pending. 

Authorities were providing regular updates about the fatal fire at the Oakland warehouse that left over two dozen people dead. Alameda Sheriff Ahern said 16 families have been notified and five notifications were pending. Officials said they have contacted the embassies of Finland, Korea, and Guatemala.

The Associated Press reported that Monday afternoon that sheriff's officials said they didn't believe additional bodies would be found in the warehouse building. But the wire service issued a correction saying the sheriff misspoke and that it's not known for sure if any additional bodies will be found. 

Also, officials are planning on a power outage that s expected to last about 12 hours. It will affect about 50-500 customers in the immediate area of the fire. The power outage is planned so crews can bring a crane to the site to help with recovery efforts; without bumping into active power lines.

Meanwhile, officials released new information early Monday morning stating the death toll from the fire that tore through the warehouse hosting a late-night dance party climbed to 36, as firefighters painstakingly combed through rubble for others believed to still be missing.

Of the 36 victims, 33 have been tentatively identified, according to authorities.  

Oakland police did not release additional names of the victims Monday morning. "At this time we won't be updating this morning the list of names of the located and identified victims. We are giving the family members an opportunity to update other family members - to notify them - and give them an opportunity to grieve together before we release those additional names," said Oakland police. 

The Oakland Battalion Chief said, "We absolutely believe the number of fatalities will increase." 

ATF asked the Oakland Fire Department Sunday around 10 p.m. to halt their search in the back of the building based on the fact that Oakland crews feel very strongly that they located where the fire started. Oakland crews believe the fire started in the back of the building. ATF investigators will arrive Monday morning to start "building out their team and getting deeper into that area of the building." 

Recovery work was halted for the entire building around 12:18 a.m. due to unsafe conditions. Fire officials feared the front wall of the warehouse could collapse, causing danger to recovery crews.

The search had resumed before noon. 

Seventy percent of the charred remains of the partly collapsed structure had been searched, and crews clearing debris were expected to find more bodies as they advanced, Alameda County Sheriff's Sgt. Ray Kelly said during a press conference Sunday. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said Sunday that a criminal investigation team has been activated by Alameda County District Attorney.

Late Sunday evening, officials released the identities of seven people who died in the blaze. Those victims have been identified as:

  • Cash Askew, 22, Oakland, Calif.
  • David Clines, 35, Oakland, Calif.
  • Nick Gomez-Hall, 25, Coronado, Calif.
  • Sara Hoda, 30, Walnut Creek, Calif.
  • Travis Hough, 35, Oakland, Calif.
  • Donna Kellogg, 32, Oakland, Calif.
  • Brandon Chase Wittenauer, 32, Hayward, Calif.
  • Draven McGrill, 17, according to the SFGate

On Monday evening the coroner released the followin names of victims who were identified: 

  • Em Bohlka, 33, Oakland, Calif. 
  • Micah Danemayer, 28, Oakland, Calif.
  • Chelsea Dolan, 33, San Francisco, Calif.
  • Feral Pines, 29, Berkeley, Calif.  
  • Alex Ghassan, 35, Oakland, Calif. 
  • Michela Gregory, 20, South San Francisco, Calif. 
  • Edmund Lapine, 34, Oakland, Calif. 
  • Jennifer Morris, 21, Foster City, Calif. 
  • Benjamin Runnels, 32, Oakland, Calif. 
  • Jennifer Kiyomi Taouye, 31, Oakland, Calif. 

Kelly said those killed range in age from teenagers to 30-plus years old. And one victim was said to be the son of an Alameda County Sheriff's Deputy, Kelly said.

17-year-old Draven McGill attended Ruth Asawa School of the Arts in San Francisco.

The school released a statement, "This is an incredibly unsettling and sad event – for the Asawa SOTA community, and especially for the victim's family," said RASOTA  Principal Barnaby Payne. "As sad as we are today, I know that how we react in challenging times is what defines us as a community.  As parents, teachers, children, students, brothers, sisters and friends, we share in the heartbreak of his family and will embrace them and each other as the Asawa SOTA family. We must rise to this occasion and rally around each other with love, compassion and support."

Anxious family members who feared the worst gathered at the sheriff's office to await word on their loved ones. They were told they may have to provide DNA samples to help identify remains.

The coroner's office is asking that family members of the missing hold onto DNA in a brown paper bag in case they need it to help identify victims.

Officials say that they are finding victims all over the warehouse, not just in one area.

Some victims are international, according to Alameda County Sheriffs Officials. They say foreign consulates have been contacted.

They also say "some bodies are identifiable, some are not". It could take weeks to identify some using family DNA.

In a press conference that took place at 8 a.m. Sunday, Oakland Fire Battalion Chief Melinda Drayton said that 20 percent of the building has been searched.

Drayton added that one victim was found within feet of the breached wall, and by the time they had made the 15-foot search, three more bodies were found.

Drayton said that to her knowledge, this is the deadliest fire in Oakland's history and calls the search experience "heartbreaking". 

Three UC Berkeley students are reportedly among the missing. According to the Daily Cal, Griffin Madden, Jenny Morirs, and Vanessa Plotkin have been reported missing by their friends.

The newspaper also reports that Cal Graduate David Cline is missing. 

The building known as the "Ghost Ship" had been carved into artist studios and was an illegal home for a rotating cast of a dozen or more people, according to former denizens who said it was a cluttered death trap with few exits, piles of wood and a mess of snaking electric cords.

"If you were going there for a party, you wouldn't be aware of the maze that you have to go through to get out," said Danielle Boudreaux, a former friend of the couple who ran the warehouse.

As many as 100 people were there for a party Friday night when the fire broke out just before midnight. Fire officials were still investigating the cause of the blaze, but they said clutter fueled the flames, there were no sprinklers inside and few exits to escape.

Boudreaux identified the operators of the Satya Yuga collective as Derick Ion Almena and Micah Allison. She had a falling out with Almena when she convinced Allison's parents and sister about a year ago that the warehouse was a dangerous place for the couple's three children to live.

The couple rented out five recreational vehicles and other nooks on the ground floor as living spaces. A rickety makeshift staircase led to a second floor where concerts were held. Former residents said there frequently was no electricity or running water.

Oakland planning officials opened an investigation last month after repeated complaints from neighbors who said trash was piling up and people were illegally living in the building zoned as a warehouse. An inspector who went to the premises couldn't get inside, said Darin Ranelletti, of the Oakland Planning Department.

The city had not confirmed people lived there, but a former resident said she had been lured in part by reasonable rents in a region beset with a housing shortage and exorbitant leases driven by the tech boom.

Shelley Mack said she wasn't told the residence was illegal until after she moved in a couple years ago and stayed for four to five months, paying about $700 a month. She said she was instructed to tell visitors it was a 24-hour workspace for artists and when outsiders or inspectors planned to visit, residents would scurry to hide clothes and bedding.

"It's like a horror house. Just horrors in there," she said.

To a first-time visitor, though, the labyrinth of uniquely designed spaces was "stunning," said Alastair Boone, a University of California, Berkeley student who arrived at the party with five friends around 11 p.m.

Photographs from before the fire showed that the Bohemian community of musicians, painters, woodworkers, dancers and other artists had decorated the scene with Tibetan prayer flags, Christmas lights and scores of wooden statues of Buddha, the virgin Mary, Jesus Christ, elephants and dragons that sat atop pianos and turntables. Tapestries hung from the walls, mannequin legs and arms stuck out from the ceiling and a small wooden spot of floor was used for art performances.

"It was obvious to me everyone who lives there cared about each other and were invested in a space they made a home," Boone said.

Almena did not immediately respond to emails or phone numbers associated with him. Authorities declined to talk about the manager, saying they were focused on recovering the bodies and consoling families.

A man identified as Derick Ion posted a Facebook message early Saturday, saying, "Everything I worked so hard for is gone. Blessed that my children and Micah were at a hotel safe and sound." He drew rebukes online from others who said he was warned the building was unsafe.

Almena, 46, has lived in California since at least 1990, mostly in Los Angeles, where public records show he was evicted from a North Hollywood apartment in Los Angeles in 1993.

Allison, 40, spent much of her life residing in Northern California, although she had also lived in Southern California, where she filed for a fictitious business name, Sacred Image, at a Los Angeles address.

Online records listed the building's owner as Nar Siu Chor. The Associated Press could not locate a telephone number for her Saturday. Efforts to reach her at other Oakland addresses associated with her were not successful.

Boone said she had just received a tour of the property and stepped outside when someone yelled, "Fire!"

"In a couple of minutes there were flames coming out of the windows and black smoke was just billowing out of the house," she said.

Some of the people who got out were crying and others stood silently in shock as firefighters arrived to put the flames out.

"The people who lived there were clustered together, and they were just so sad," Boone said. "They were losing their loved ones, and there was nothing they could do."

Monica Kat was outside the warehouse Saturday and said she feared four of her friends are dead. "They're still not accounted for, and I can only think the worst at this point," she said.

Melley reported from San Francisco. Associated Press writers Olga Rodriguez, Tim Reiterman and Sudhin Thanawala in San Francisco, and Jonathan J. Cooper, Terry Chea and Janie Har in Oakland contributed to this report.