Manager of Oakland Warehouse Says 'I'm Incredibly Sorry' About Deadly Fire

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
Candles, photos and flowers are placed at a makeshift memorial near the site of a warehouse fire on Dec. 5, 2016, in Oakland, Calif.

The manager of the Oakland, California, warehouse where 36 people died at a party on Friday night told the Today show on Tuesday (Dec. 6) that he is "incredibly sorry" about the fire that destroyed his rambling art commune. Derick Almena said the building -- which the Los Angeles Times reported had been investigated by inspectors for "illegal interior building structure" on Nov. 14 -- would not answer questions about reported code violations at the space, which was used for parties and housed a number of artists.

“I’m only here to say one thing: I’m incredibly sorry and that everything that I did was to make this a stronger and more beautiful community and to bring people together,” he told Today. “People didn’t walk through those doors because it was a horrible place. People didn’t seek us out to perform and express themselves because it was a horrible place.” The 4,000-square-foot building known as the Ghost Ship was zoned as a warehouse, not for residential use, though it was suspected of housing a number of illegal units where artists lived and hosting parties such as Friday nights, for which it did not have the required permit, interim Oakland Planning and Building Department director Darin Ranelletti told SFGate.

Almena told Today that amid rising rents in the area he opened the warehouse up to artists who didn't have space elsewhere or who couldn't afford shelter because "your dream is bigger than your pocketbook... we created something together. This stopped being me. This stopped being about me three years ago." He also noted that when he signed the lease on the building he understood that he got a building that was "to city standards supposedly."

At press time the investigation into the fire was ongoing, with 36 confirmed deaths, a count that officials said could grow higher. “This property is a storage [facility], but the owner turned it into a trash recycle site ... and the main building was remodel for residential," the Nov. 14 complaint against the Ghost Ship read, according to the Times. Almena, 47, lived in the warehouse with his family and denied that he operated the ramshackle space at a profit at the expense of the residents' safety.

“This is profit? The loss of mass life? I’m a father. I lay my three children down there every night,” he said, noting that he and his family stayed at a hotel during Friday's party so his children could get a good night's sleep. “Profit? This is not profit, this is loss. This is a mass grave.” At a certain point in the interview, Almena grew distraught when questions turned to whether his management of the building might have played a role in the tragedy. "I didn't do anything ever in my life that would lead me up to this moment," he told Today. "I'm an honorable man. I'm a proud man."

Click here to read the full Today show interview.


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