The death toll in a fire that tore through an Oakland, Calif. warehouse during a dance-music party is up to 24 and expected to rise, officials announced at a press conference Sunday morning.
With only 20 percent of the building searched at this point in a round-the-clock effort, Alameda County Sheriff Ray Kelly says the number of victims will increase. The 24 total includes the nine victims previously announced.
Kelly says three families have officially been notified so far, and no victims names have been confirmed to media. He expects some names to be announced Sunday (Dec. 4). Kelly added that Oakland officials have personally met with every family awaiting news on their loved ones.
The remains of the 24 have been removed from the building, officials say.
Fire Chief Melinda Drayton says the cause of the fire is still under investigation “We don’t believe we’ve gotten close to the point of origin of the fire,” she says.
The fire is not under criminal investigation.
The converted warehouse was known as the “Ghost Ship” and has been described as a maze-like warren of artist studios. According to a statement, on November 13 the city received complaints of blight and unpermitted interior construction at the building and four days later a building inspector visited the property and verified the complaint but could not gain access to the building to confirm the unpermitted-construction complaint. The investigation is ongoing.
Drayton called the fire the most deadly in her 19-year career, adding that the mood among her team is somber.
“This is the most deadly fire in Oakland’s fire history that I’m aware of, I’ve been in for 19 years and consider myself a veteran,” she says. “It is tragic to watch so many people perish from a fire fatality in front of your eyes and have to be stoic in your job.”
Drayton says the excavation is being carried out “literally bucket by bucket in a methodical, thoughtful, mindful, and compassionate way.” She anticipates at least a few more days using the same approach. “This will be a long and arduous process,” Drayton says.
Another press conference is scheduled for Sunday at 11 a.m. PT.