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Man who managed Oakland warehouse says fire victims were ‘my children,’ ‘my future’

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The victims — some as young as 17 — were found “throughout the entire square footage” of the warehouse.

A man who managed an Oakland warehouse and artist collective where a massive fire killed at least 36 people spoke publicly Sunday night for the first time, telling a Bay Area news station the victims were his friends, family and “children.”

Derick Ion Almena, who was known as Derick Ion to residents, spoke briefly with a KGO-TV reporter, who approached him and his wife at Oakland Marriott City Center. The couple is staying at the hotel, the news station reported.

“They are my children. They are my friends. They are family. They are my loves. They are my future,” Almena told KGO-TV.

“What else do I have to say,” he said before walking away with his wife, Micah Allison.

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Almena’s comment comes days after a fire erupted in the nearly 10,000-square-foot warehouse, where a party had been held Friday. Criminal investigators have begun to examine the scene.

Hours after the fire, a comment appeared on a Facebook page belonging to “Derick Ion.”

“Confirmed. Everything I worked so hard for is gone. Blessed that my children and Micah were at a hotel safe and sound… it’s as if I have awoken from a dream filled with opulence and hope …. to be standing now in poverty of self worth.”

Almena later clarified his comments in a written statement to NBC News, saying he didn’t know that people had died in the fire. He told the news station that he was heartbroken.

“My goal has been nothing less than to create an environment for art and creativity in our community,” he told NBC News. “During this investigation please continue to show support and compassion for those affected by this tragedy. The prayers of my family and I go out to the families of the victims.”

Almena did not immediately respond to a Times request for comment.

A group calling itself Satya Yuga Collective leased the warehouse, which Almena managed.

Almena, 46, lived on the second floor of the warehouse with his wife, and often hosted concerts on the premise, which was billed as the “Oakland Ghost Ship.”

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According to residents, the couple’s three children also lived in the building.

He considered himself a “realms creator” and built found-object sculptures and stage sets for musical gatherings. The warehouse was littered with Hindu art, found objects and furniture from Almena’s travels to Bali.

Officials said the warehouse was the subject of a city code enforcement investigation at the time of the fire due to complaints about health and safety issues.

Some former residents described the building as a “tinderbox” and “death trap” filled with RVs and pianos. They said it lacked fire sprinklers and had a staircase partly made from wooden pallets.

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Fire officials said crews did not hear smoke alarms go off when they arrived at the the building.

The warehouse is one of several properties owned by Chor N. Ng. Her daughter, Eva Ng, 36, said the building had been leased as a studio space for the art collective and was not used as residences.

Writers Phil Willon, Paige St. John and Soumya Karlamangla contributed to this article.

To read the article in Spanish, click here

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veronica.rocha@latimes.com

For breaking news in California, follow @VeronicaRochaLA on Twitter.

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