Oakland Warehouse Operator Apologizes for Deadly Fire in Emotional Interview – but Denies He Shirked Safety Codes

Derick Ion Almena, owner of the Oakland warehouse where 36 people died on Friday night, is apologizing for the deadly fire and denying he skipped safety codes.

The operator who leased the Oakland warehouse known as the “Ghost Ship” where 36 people died on Friday night emotionally apologized for the deadly fire – but denied he made it unsafe and shirked safety codes.

A shaken Derick Ion Almena gave a live interview on the Today show Tuesday, where he was quick to express his sorrow for the blaze, which has been deemed one of the deadliest structure fires in the country over the past decade.

“It’s not a good morning,” Almena said. “What am I doing here? Can I just say I’m sorry? The only reason why I’m here is to put my face and my body here in front.”

When asked if he should be held accountable for the loss, Almena broke down.


“Am I the man who should be held accountable? Did I build something… I mean what am I going to say to that? Should I be held accountable? I can barely stand here right now.”

He continued to apologize up until the live interview’s end.

“I didn’t do anything ever in my life that would lead me up to this moment,” he said. “I’m an honorable man — I’m a proud man. I would rather get on the floor and be trampled by the parents. I would rather let them tear at my flesh than answer these questions.”

“I’m so sorry,” he concluded. “I’m incredibly sorry.”


Almena said the space wasn’t initially intended to be a living quarters — but that it transformed into that when the artist commune grew.

“I laid my body down there,” he said. “We put our children down there every night. We made music. We created art. We opened our home. It became our home. It didn’t start off as our home. It started off as an initial dream — an ideal that would host anything from at risk youth to the gay community to artists that couldn’t perform anywhere to performance art and alternative arts.”

“And eventually when you can’t pay your rent because your dream is bigger than you pocketbook? When the need for housing and the need for people to sit down, and be warm, and take a shower, and take a bath and go to bed?” he added. “And so we created something together.”

RELATED VIDEO: Officials Say at Least 36 Dead After Fire Breaks Out During Warehouse Rave in Oakland

The Ghost Ship was a mixed-use artist space inside a warehouse at 1305 31st Avenue in Oakland, and had been in operation since at least 2014.

Photos from the Ghost Ship’s Tumblr show a large loft overstuffed with artful decorations — reclaimed wooden furniture draped in fabric, musical instruments stacked and scattered in corners, colorful lamps hanging from beams, divided mini-rooms created out of scraps of found wood and windows. There was also an outdoor space scattered with furniture.

Almena maintained that the building was up to code when he signed the lease – and that he was forced to make numerous improvements – including installing a hot water heater and a new electrical panel.

Source: Oakland Ghost Ship/Tumblr
Source: Oakland Ghost Ship/Tumblr

His partner, Micah Allison, told NBC News in a pre-taped interview that they couldn’t often afford necessary safety upgrades.

“We didn’t have enough money to do the things that needed to be done there and there was no one helping us,” she said, through tears.

One of the commune’s former residents, Shelly Mack, previously alleged on the Today show that Almena knew the space was dangerous when he rented it to her, but never “spent a dime on anything but partying.” She said he was out for personal profit from running the space.

Source: Oakland Ghost Ship/Tumblr
Source: Oakland Ghost Ship/Tumblr

Her words upset Almena.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” he said. “I don’t want to talk about me. I don’t want to talk about profiting. This is profit? The loss of mass lives. I’m a father. I laid my three children down there every night. Profit? This is not profit. This is loss. This is a mass grave.”

“I’m only here to say one thing — that I’m incredibly sorry and that everything that I did was to make this a stronger more beautiful community and to bring people together,” he said.

Almena was not home at the time of the fire. He, Allison, and his children had gotten a hotel room for the evening — leaving the warehouse as residents and guests held an event at the space which featured a performance from Madison, Wisconsin-based electronic act Golden Donna.

Approximately 100 people were there for the show.

“On the night of the fire, did I know there was going to be a fire did I remove my children from the space and get a hotel because I wanted to avoid this?” Almena said. “Because I wanted to cast blame on other people. No — because I wanted to get a good sleep with my children. I wanted to let the young people do what they do.”

Allison teared up discussing her kids in the interview’s pre-recorded portions. “As a mother, I am having a terrible time,” she said. “I’m having a terrible time, and I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry for what has happened.”

“I’m worried,” Almena said, in tears. “I’m worried that my kids are going to be taken away from me.”

No criminal charges have been filed against Almena.

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