Ghost Ship Building Owners Knew of Electrical Issues Before Deadly Fire

Ajesh Shah via AP
This 2014 photo provided by Ajesh Shah shows the interior of a portion of the 'Ghost Ship' warehouse, taken while he was on a tour as a potential tenant of the Oakland, Calif., building. Dozens of people died at a party after a fire that started on Dec. 2, 2016 and swept through the building. 

Owners of the building that housed the Ghost Ship knew about dangerous electrical issues more than two years before a fire there killed 36 people at a party last December. 

According to emails obtained by The Mercury News, the landlords were aware of a transformer fire in an adjacent space that was never reported to authorities and tenants' upgrades to the power system that were done without city permits. All of this could strengthen a possible criminal case. 

One email dated Feb. 15, 2015, from the Kai Ng, son of building owner Chor Ng, told Derick Almena, who ran the Ghost Ship artists' cooperative in an illegally converted warehouse, "The lack of electrical infrastructure was made very clear before your lease began."

Almena, who sublet space in the former milk bottling plant to artists who lived there, had complained to Kai Ng about electricity flowing to the building through "ancient and violated lines of distribution" that were "in dire need of a total and immediate upgrade." 

Other emails reveal the landlords were aware of a small electrical fire in 2014 in an adjoining auto body shop. It went unreported and was attended to an unlicensed contractor, who was also a tenant at the time, who said the fire was caused by a "catastrophically overloading" power system. When that unlicensed contractor said a second transformer needed replacing because it was too small to carry the electrical load, it was never done.

The list of known problems does not end there. As recently as two months before the deadly Ghost Ship fire in December 2016, Ghost Ship resident Max Harris emailed Kai Ng and his sister Eva Ng, who act as property managers for their mother, warning about "overexertion" on the electrical system. The concerns were disregarded. 

"Kai Ng totally sidestepped my expression of needing stability," Harris told The Mercury News. "I said it was terminal and was getting worse, and he just asked for more money."

A legal analyst told the newspaper that these revelations of what the Ngs knew will strengthen an involuntary mans later charge and also makes second degree murder charges more plausible.