The death toll from a Friday fire that took place in a warehouse venue in Oakland, California, continues to rise as authorities work on containing the site of the blaze.
Alameda County Sheriff’s Office announced in a press conference on Sunday afternoon that the death toll had risen to 33. Earlier in the day, authorities said the death toll was 24, but said they were still recovering bodies.
The fire struck close to home as the Sheriff’s Office confirmed that a deputy’s son had died in the fire. As of Sunday afternoon, the authorities were still in the process of notifying all of the victims’ families.
The Sheriff’s Office also confirmed that they had launched a criminal investigation into the fire. They also revealed that they were finding victims in every section of the warehouse including “where we least expect them.”
The victims include children, the authorities announced at the press conference on Sunday, revealing that they found victims aged 17 and younger. Many of the victims are thought to be artists, musicians and members of the thriving local music scene in Oakland. However, the list of victims is not limited to Oakland residents as authorities announced Sunday that some of the deceased include people from Europe and Asia.
The tragic fire has been deemed one of the deadliest structure fires in the country over the past decade. Approximately 100 people were in attendance for the event, which featured a performance from Madison, Wisconsin-based electronic act Golden Donna. According to a Facebook page for the event which was called a rave, attendees could get their hair and nails done at a “secret East Oakland location,” which was announced the day of the show.
The fire was initially reported at 11:30 p.m. on Friday, according to KTVU. Authorities told KTVU the warehouse at 1305 31st st., which was known as the Ghost Ship, included living quarters for artists and their studios.
Kelly told reporters that authorities intended to remain at the scene “for days and days to come,” according to The New York Times.
“We know that there are bodies in there that we cannot get to, that have been seen but have not been recovered,” Kelly said, adding that they were “expecting the worst, maybe a couple dozen victims.”
Oakland Fire Department Battalion Chief Melinda Drayton said firefighters worked throughout the night, hauling off the debris in dump trucks, according to The New York Times.
“It was quiet, it was heartbreaking,” Chief Drayton said of the search, in which firefighters had been able to access only about 20 percent of the warehouse.
Authorities said only 20 percent of the building has been searched, and names of victims could be released within the next day, according to Fox 8.
One local reporter also said that 24 deaths were confirmed by the Sheriff’s Office, and tweeted, “only 3 notifications to next of kin.”
In an updated tweet, the reporter said, “Sheriffs office: contacted every family member and sat down with them. Asking family & friends not to call hotline unless they have to now.”
The reporter continued tweeting, providing information that the names of the victims would be released in the “next few hours,” and also added that investigators told reporters one victim was found “within feet of [a] breached wall” and four more victims were found in the center of the building.
Oakland Fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed said, “This is the deadliest fire we’ve seen. Every one of the firefighters has been affected by this,” according to the reporter’s tweet.
Meanwhile, many former employees are pointing the finger at Ghost Ship owner Derick Ion, who they claimed “laughed off” warnings from police and fire officials about the building’s fire hazard, according to KGO. The local network also says the Oakland Planning and Building Department said Saturday that Ion should have requested a special permit for Saturday night’s rave, but he did not.
Photos from inside Ghost Ship show a dark and intimate setting, cluttered with flammable decorations like rugs, wooden wall-hangings and lamps.
Ghost Ship was a DIY venue that operated inside a warehouse building that was reportedly being used by artists as studios and living spaces. According to the East Bay Express, “habitability” complaints had been made about the building to the warehouse’s owner (not Ion), with the most recent complaint being filed in November. In October 2014, the city cited the owner because of housing and other structures that were being built inside the warehouse without permits, East Bay Express reports, citing city records.
In a post on what appears to be his Facebook page, Ion wrote, “Confirmed. Everything I worked so hard for is gone. Blessed that my children and Micah were at a hotel safe and sound… it’s as if I have awoken from a dream filled with opulence and hope…. to be standing now in poverty of self worth.”
A Tumblr identifying itself as the Ghost Ship shows dozens of photos of the building’s interior, including wooden art installations and details, clusters of old furniture and figurines, rugs and wall hanging and musical instruments. The Tumblr also features videos of performances and fliers for shows showing the 31st. street address. According to the Tumblr a tattoo shop was also operated inside the space.
The Oakland Fire Department, Alameda County Sheriff’s Office and Alameda County Coroner’s Bureau could not be reached for comment.