The death toll in the Oakland warehouse fire climbed to 36 people on Monday with more bodies still feared buried in the blackened ruins, and families anxiously awaited word of their missing loved ones.
The laborious job of digging with shovels and buckets was suspended overnight because of a dangerously unstable wall but resumed mid-morning.
Investigators said they believe they have located the section of the building where the fire started, but the cause remains unknown.
Also, the district attorney’s sent a team to search for evidence of a crime in the warehouse, known as the “Ghost Ship”, which was already under investigation by the city for possible code violations.
An Oakland City Councilman told the Associated Press in this video that there had been complaints about that building and others that weren’t up to code:
About the man behind ‘Ghost Ship’
Derick Ion Almena was the creative force behind the “Ghost Ship” warehouse in Oakland, the site of a fire that killed dozens of people.
The warehouse where Almena and his family lived was rented out on the night of the fire. He, his wife and their three young children were not there at the time of the fire. The space was reportedly overrun with clutter - furniture, artwork, etc. - and had no smoke alarms or sprinklers, nor was it officially permitted for tenants or parties.
This East Bay Times video tells more about Almena, and the Facebook post after the blaze that drew heavy criticism.
On Monday, Almena sent a statement to NBC Bay Area responding to the criticism.
“In my previous Facebook post, I had no idea there was a loss of life,” Almena’s statement to NBC Bay Area read. “This tragic event consumes me every moment. My heart is broken. My heartfelt condolences to the family and friends who have suffered the loss of loved ones.”
About some of the victims
A Memorial Facebook page devoted to the victims of the tragedy was set up. Eleven had been identified by Monday afternoon, and stories about who they were began to surface in the media.
One of the victims, Travis Hough, 35, of Oakland, was celebrated as “a compassionate human being” and “a great singer” by his friend, Allen Chiu. Chiu posted a video of Hough performing the David Bowie song “Ashes to Ashes.”
Still unknown was the fate of Jennifer Mendiola, 35, a Sacramento State University graduate who was believed to have perished in the Friday night disaster. Mendiola was attending the dance party at the warehouse when the blaze broke out. “We are assuming the worst,” her sister-in-law Anna Mendiola told The Sacramento Bee on Sunday. “Her phone has been dead.” Jennifer Mendiola graduated from Sacramento State in 2010 with a master’s degree in psychology and was due to graduate next year from UC Merced.
Besides Hough and Mendiola, city officials identified the following victims:
Cash Askew, a musician and founding member of the dream-pop group Them Are Us Too, was among the dead.
A 24-year-old Oakland resident, David Cline was originally from Santa Monica and graduated from UC Berkeley last year with bachelor’s degrees in cognitive science and computer science, according to the independent local news site, Berkeleyside.
Nick Gomez-Hall, 25, of Coronado in San Diego County.
Sara Hoda, 30, of Walnut Creek.
Donna Kellogg, a 32-year-old Oakland resident, was described by Josh Howes, an old boyfriend who went to the fire scene early Sunday, as a “super awesome, fiery, intelligent redhead who wanted to be a healer.”
Brandon Chase Wittenauer, 32, of Hayward.
Other names trickled out from other sources. The San Francisco Chronicle said the victims included Draven McGill, a 17-year-old at San Francisco’s Ruth Asawa School of the Arts. The website Berkeleyside.com said another victim was Jonathan Bernbaum, a Berkeley visual artist.
‘Ghost Fire’ residents describe deadly fire
Nikki Kelber, 44, and Carmen Brito, 28, returned to the Fruitvale neighborhood Sunday, trying to get close to what remained of the “Ghost Ship” warehouse they called home. Both women narrowly escaped the blaze Friday night.
Footage taken by a partygoer at an Oakland warehouse out shows the inside of the structure shortly before the deadly blaze broke out.