Refrigerator looked at as possible source of deadly California warehouse fire

OAKLAND, Calif. — As crews searched the Oakland warehouse for more bodies, the founder of the arts collective stood near the gutted building Tuesday morning and said he was “incredibly sorry” and that everything he did was to bring people together.

The death toll remains at 36, with officials saying early Tuesday that no additional bodies have been recovered.

Alameda County Sheriff’s Deputy Tya Modeste said of the 36 victims found, 26 of their families have been notified. Another nine bodies have been “tentatively identified,” she said. Officials are still lacking any type of identity for one individual.

The fire erupted Friday night during a dance party at the warehouse that had been converted to artists’ studios and illegal living spaces.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Tuesday afternoon that it is looking at the possibility that a refrigerator or other appliance was the source of a warehouse fire that killed 36 people.

Jill Snyder, the special agent in charge of the ATF’s San Francisco office, said it’s too early to say for sure a refrigerator caused the blaze, but she said it was a potential source of ignition. Snyder said investigators are looking at anything electrical on the first floor of the warehouse near where the fire started.

Founder Derick Ion Almena told the “Today Show” earlier Tuesday that he was at the site to put his face and his body in front of the scene. However, he deflected blame for the blaze. Almena said he signed a lease for the building that “was to city standards supposedly.”

“I’m only here to say one thing that 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 said.

Oakland Fire Battalion Chief Robert Lipp said crews have cleared 85 percent of the “Ghost Ship” building with one corner still inaccessible because it is unstable. Crews hope to stabilize it Tuesday.

Officials said they would turn next to investigating the fire. It’s unclear how it started. The district attorney warned of possible murder charges as she determines whether there were any crimes linked to the blaze.

“We owe it to the community and those who perished in this fire, and those who survived the fire to be methodical, to be thorough, and to take the amount of time it takes to be able to look at every piece of potential evidence,” Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said.

The blaze is the most lethal building fire in the U.S. in more than a decade and stories of victim’s last minutes began to emerge Monday.

Alameda County sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Ray Kelly said that some of the victims texted relatives, “I’m going to die,” and “I love you.”

Rescue crews found bodies of people “protecting each other, holding each other,” Kelly said.

On Monday night, hundreds of people holding candles and flowers honored those who died in the fire at a vigil at Oakland’s Lake Merritt.

Those in the crowd embraced each other or held up candles as they said aloud the names of people they lost in the blaze.

Several people in the crowd held signs offering “free hugs.”

Terry Ewing learned Monday what he already knew in his heart: His girlfriend, Ara Jo, was among the dead.

Earlier, Ewing said Jo’s friends and family had already started talking about the vibrant 29-year-old Oakland artist in the past tense, but needed confirmation. Friends remembered her as someone who could fit in anywhere, he said.

“If you take her somewhere, she’ll make friends with the surly punks in the corner as well as the elderly grandparents,” he said.

The cluttered warehouse had been converted to artists’ studios and illegal living spaces, and former denizens said it was a death trap of piled wood, furniture, snaking electrical cords and only two exits.

Oakland city councilman Noel Gallo, who lives a block from the warehouse, said he confronted Almena several times about neighbors’ concerns about trash in the street and in front of the warehouse. Gallo said Almena essentially told authorities to “mind their own business” and appeared resistant to addressing complaints and complying with city codes.

Almena said on the “Today Show” on Tuesday that he signed a lease for the building that “was to city standards supposedly.”

Almena and his partner, Micah Allison, ran the building’s arts colony, called the Satya Yuga collective. Relatives, friends and former colleagues said Almena loved to surround himself with followers, but he seemed to care little for their well-being.

Almena told the “Today Show” that he and his family lived in the warehouse.

He told San Jose television station KNTV that he didn’t attend the event Friday night and that he and his wife had decided to stay at a hotel because he was exhausted.

Almena did not respond to emails or calls to phone numbers associated with him by The Associated Press. No one answered a call to a number for Allison.

The warehouse is owned by Chor N. Ng, her daughter Eva Ng told the Los Angeles Times. She said the warehouse was leased as studio space for an art collective and was not being used as a dwelling.

“We are also trying to figure out what’s going on like everybody else,” the family wrote in a statement to KNTV. “Our condolences go out to the families and friends of those injured and those who lost their lives.”

Eva Ng did not immediately return phone calls from The Associated Press.

Gallo said Chor N. Ng put Almena in charge of cleaning up the Ghost Ship, and nothing was done.

“I hold the owner of the property responsible,” Gallo said. “I hold the manager responsible.”

But questions persisted about whether city officials could have done more to prevent the fire. Oakland planning officials opened an investigation last month after complaints about the warehouse. An inspector who went to the premises couldn’t get inside, said Darin Ranelletti of the Oakland Planning Department.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said city officials are putting together a record of what they knew about the property.

Oakland Fire Battalion Chief Melinda Drayton told the San Francisco Chronicle that investigators believe the fire started in the center-rear of the converted warehouse. The cause of the fire remains unknown.

ad-high_impact_4
News
Clark County Schools announce random searches
Clark County School District middle and high school students will be subject to random searches for weapons under a new initiative to combat the wave of guns found on campus. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss React to Dennis Hof's Death
Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss speak about their friend and prominent brothel owner Dennis Hof's death at Dennis Hof's Love Ranch. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada brothel owner Dennis Hof has died
Nevada brothel owner and Republican candidate for Nevada State Assembly District 36, Dennis Hof has died. He was 72. Nye County Sherriff's office confirmed. Hof owned Love Ranch brothel, located in Crystal, Nevada.
Las Vegas police investigate suspicious package at shopping center
Las Vegas police evacuated a southeast valley shopping center at Flamingo and Sandhill roads early Tuesday morning while they investigated reports of a suspicious package. (Max Michor/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Las Vegas Metro hosts the K-9 Trials
The Las Vegas Metro K-9 Trials returns to the Orleans Arena to benefit the Friends For Las Vegas Police K-9 group.
Kingman residents love their little town
Residents of Kingman, Ariz. talk about how they ended up living in the Route 66 town, and what they love about their quiet community. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Service at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery
Twelve unclaimed veterans are honored at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City in Oct. 9, 2018. (Briana Erickson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas house prices reach highest level in 11 years
Las Vegas house prices are rising But so is the amount of available homes on the market Still, properties priced below $300,000 are selling fast And September was the first time since June 2007 that the median house price reached the $300,000 mark Las Vegas home prices have been rising at one of the fastest rates in the country over the past year Recent data show the market is now less affordable than the national average
National Night Out
About 100 Summerlin residents gathered at Park Centre Dr. in Summerlin on Tuesday for National Night Out. Lt. Joshua Bitsko with Las Vegas Metro, played with 3-year-old David who was dressed as a police officer. Face painting, fire truck tours and more kept kids busy as parents roamed behind them. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rural homeless issue comes to a head in Pahrump
On Sept. 12, Pahrump sheriff deputies told residents of a homeless encampment on private property that they had 15 minutes to vacate and grab their belongings. That decision might face some legal consequences. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Remembrance blood drive on October 1
A blood drive was held at the Las Vegas Convention Center on the one year anniversary of the Oct. 1 shooting. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Remembrance Lights memorial unveiled at St. Rose hospital
A dedication ceremony was held at St. Rose to unveil a memorial and to read the names of those who died on October 1, a year ago. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1October Blood Drive Remembrance Wall
(Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1October Blood Drive
Vitalent hosts a blood drive at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Monday, Oct. 1, 2018, the first anniversary of the Las Vegas shootings. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1October sunrise remembrance ceremony in Las Vegas
Myanda Smith, sister of Las Vegas shooting victim Neysa Tonks, speaks at the sunrise remembrance ceremony at the Clark County Government Center in downtown Las Vegas, Monday, Oct. 1, 2018. (Chitose Suzuki/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
‪Gov. Brian Sandoval speaks to crowd at Oct. 1 sunrise remembrance ceremony ‬
‪Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval speaks to the crowd at the Oct. 1 sunrise remembrance ceremony ‬at the Clark County Government Center in downtown Las Vegas, Monday, Oct. 1, 2018. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Father of Route 91 Harvest festival shooting victim talks about college scholarship in his daughter's memory
Chris Davis, father of a Route 91 Harvest festival shooting victim, Neysa Tonks, talks about a college scholarship in his daughter's memory to assist the children of those who died in the shooting. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Oct. 1 survivor Malinda Baldridge talks about life after the shooting
Malinda Baldridge of Reno attended the Route 91 Harvest festival with her daughter, Breanna, 17, and was shot twice in the leg when the gunman fired on the crowd.
Route 91 survivor talks about lack of progress in gun legislation
Heather Gooze, a Route 91 survivor, talks about lack of progress in gun legislation since the Oct 1. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas/Review-Journal) @reviewjournal
Review held in death of man after encounter with Las Vegas police
The mother of Tashii Brown, who died after an encounter with Las Vegas police on the Strip, not satisfied after public review of evidence. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Clark County Museum opening "How We Mourned: Selected Artifacts from the October 1 Memorials"
The Clark County Museum is opening an exhibit "How We Mourned: Selected Artifacts from the October 1 Memorials" of items left to honor the victims killed in the Route 91 Harvest festival shooting. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Memorial service for former RJ lawyer Mark Hinueber
Mark Hinueber, the Review-Journal's former lawyer and defender of the First Amendment, died in Las Vegas on Aug. 23. Hinueber, who was 66, worked at the RJ and other newspapers for 42 years. On Saturday, his friends and family gathered for a memorial service.
Army veteran honored in Henderson event
Army Sgt. Adam Poppenhouse was honored by fellow veterans in an event hosted by a One Hero at a Time at the Henderson Events Center.
Michelle Obama and Keegan-Michael Key urge Nevadans to vote
Former first lady Michelle Obama and comedian Keegan-Michael Key urged Nevadans to vote at Chaparral High School in Las Vegas Sunday, Sep. 23, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Nevada Task Force One Cheers Golden Knights
Nevada Task Force One Cheers Golden Knights
1 dead, 1 wounded in North Las Vegas standoff
A woman was hospitalized with serious injuries on Thursday morning after being shot inside a North Las Vegas house. Police responded about 11 p.m. to a shooting at a home on the 5600 block of Tropic Breeze Street, near Ann Road and Bruce Street. The wounded woman, police believe, was shot by a man, who later barricaded himself inside the house. SWAT was called to assist, and when officers entered the house, they discovered the man dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Las Vegas Teen Makes Clothing Resale His Side Hustle
Las Vegas resident Reanu Elises, 18, started buying and selling streetwear online when he was a high school junior. Like many other young adults, the world of online resale applications like Depop and Mercari have made selling clothing online for a profit easy. Now, Elises spends his free time at thrift shops looking for rare and vintage clothing he can list on his on his shop. Now in his freshman year at UNLV as a business marketing major, Elises hopes to open a shop of his own one day and start his own clothing brand. He estimates that he's made about $1000 from just thrifted finds in the past year, which he'll use to buy more thrift clothing and help pay for expenses in college. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
Fruition Vineyards Encourages Young Entrepreneurs to "Buy, Flip, Dream"
Once a month, young adults gather at Fruition Vineyards on South Maryland Parkway near UNLV to dig through a stack of rare, vintage and designer clothing that's marked down well below it's resale value. Shop founder Valerie Julian began the vent, dubbed "Fruition Vineyards" in August after running her streetwear shop since 2005. The event gives young entrepreneurs the opportunity to "buy, flip, dream" according to Jean. Meaning that they're encouraged to buy the clothing for sale and find a way to resell it for a profit, then reinvest that into whatever dream they pursue: college, a hobby or their own resale business. Shoppers lined up starting an hour before noon on the last Saturday in April for the opportunity and spoke about what they hoped to do with their finds and profits. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
Local man goes under cover searching for answers to homelessness
Licensed mental health therapist Sheldon Jacobs spent 48 hours under cover posing as a homeless man in an attempt to gain perspective on the complex issue.
Social Work UNLV Lecturer's Calling
Ivet Aldaba-Valera was the first person in her family to graduate from both high school and college. The 33-year-old UNLV lecturer is now pursuing her Ph. D in public policy at the school and has used her degree in social work to engage with the young Latino and Latina community of Las Vegas. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like