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Search for remains ends at Oakland warehouse with fire death toll at 36

The Oakland warehouse known as the Ghost Ship lies in ruins after a fire that killed 36 people.
The Oakland warehouse known as the Ghost Ship lies in ruins after a fire that killed 36 people.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

The search for remains at the scene of the deadly Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland has concluded, leaving the death toll at 36, officials said Wednesday.

“We are not going to find more victims in the fire,” said Sgt. Ray Kelly, a spokesman for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office.

Although the search for bodies has ended, investigators were still examining the site for further clues as to what sparked the fire. Kelly said that evidence search was “ramping down” late Wednesday morning.

Investigators are looking at “every possible source of ignition,” including a refrigerator, according to Jill A. Snyder, special agent in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ San Francisco bureau. Speaking at a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Snyder said arson “hasn’t definitively been ruled out,” but investigators have yet to uncover evidence that the fire was set intentionally.

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“This fire is the highest number of fire fatalities in the country in the last 13 years,” Snyder said.

It could take several weeks until authorities determine the cause of the blaze.

At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office Coroner’s Bureau released the names of two more of the 36 victims: Jason McCarty, 35, and Wolfgang Renner, 61, both of Oakland. To date, the bureau has notified the families of 32 victims, while notifications for three others are ongoing. One victim will require scientific identification before next of kin are identified.

The city of Oakland has begun releasing administrative records concerning the site of the deadly Ghost Ship warehouse fire, which killed 36 people over the weekend and has raised new concerns about nonpermitted dwellings throughout the city.

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So far, documents released by the the city Planning and Building Department reveal at least three prior complaints against the warehouse.

FULL COVERAGE: Deadly Oakland warehouse fire »

Those complaints include a report of illegal construction of a house or structure in October 2014; a report of construction materials, including pallets, blocking the sidewalk in September 2014; and a report that the lot adjacent to the warehouse was being used for parking and as a homeless encampment in November 2005. The complaints were all lodged against the 10,000-square-foot warehouse at 1315 31st Ave., which is owned by Chor N. Ng, the city said.

Officials say there are no open complaints against the warehouse, which was permitted only for commercial use, not for residential use or public assembly.

A vacant lot adjacent to the warehouse, at 1305 31st Ave., which is also owned by Ng, attracted substantially more complaints before the blaze. Officials found 18 records, seven of which are complaints made against the lot since 1988.

Two complaints for an illegal interior building structure and mounting garbage were made on Nov. 13 and 14.

“There are a ton of garbage piling up on the property on 1305 31st Ave. Also, a lot of items are left on the sidewalk near the property,” the complaint said. “Some of trash was hazardous. This property is a storage but the owner turned it to become trash recycle site. The yard became a trash collection site and the main building was remodel for residential. The change causes our neighborhood looks very bad and creates health issue.”

City records show that a notice was sent to the building’s owner on Nov. 21 telling her to correct the violation.

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City officials have said that because there are no visible exterior addresses on the lot or warehouse, there may have been confusion in the complaint process.

“It is important to note that there are several possible ways in which the City of Oakland primarily comes in contact with a property and the City’s responsibilities vary based on the agency which has the encounter and the nature of the circumstances,” the city said in the statement. “For example, if a member of the public contacts the city to complain about building code safety violations, the complaint would be directed to the Building and Planning Department.”

Mayor Libby Schaaf said the city plans to continually release details and documents regarding the building’s 30-year-old history of permitting and complaints.

Records of the warehouse are being posted to the city’s website.

Officials have previously said the city had opened an investigation into possible code violations, and an inspector had visited the warehouse but never went inside.

“The administration has to tell us, well, what happened to the code inspector. Why did he just knock on the door and not pursue?” said City Councilman Noel Gallo, whose district includes the Fruitvale neighborhood where the warehouse was located. “This thing has been going on for 2 ½ years.”

Immediately following the fire, visitors and survivors have described the warehouse as being filled with stacks of discarded furniture, having a rickety staircase made partly of wooden pallets, and hosting a half-dozen RVs. Authorities said the building did not have sprinklers or fire alarms.

Derick Almena, the warehouse manager, told NBC News that he made repairs to the homemade electrical system without permits because the landlord refused. He said an art group calling itself the Satya Yuga Collective paid $5,000 a month in rent for the building.

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Ng, the warehouse owner, could not be reached for comment. 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.

Zac Unger, vice president of the local firefighters union, said the fire marshal’s inspection unit has been understaffed for years, but a more aggressive office would have looked for city code violations and hazards in the past.

“Had a fire inspector walked into that building and seen the conditions in there, they would have shut the place down,” Unger said.

As authorities continue their investigation into the deadly fire Wednesday, the Alameda County district attorney’s office has asked any witnesses or people “with information relevant” to its criminal investigation to call (877) 288-2882. Alameda County Dist. Atty. Nancy O’Malley has said the probe could result in criminal charges, including murder or manslaughter, she said.

On Tuesday, city officials asked for a declaration of emergency to allow businesses affected by fire to obtain reimbursement for lost revenue as well as receive federal and state funding to cover the massive response to the fire.

Officials released the names of nine victims Tuesday night: Billy Dixon, 35, of Oakland; Johnny Igaz, 34, of Oakland; Ara Jo, 29, of Oakland; Amanda Kershaw, 34, of San Francisco; Griffin Madden, 23, of Berkeley; Vanessa Plotkin, 21, of Oakland; Hanna Ruax, 32, of Helsinki, Finland; Nicole Siegrist, 29, of Oakland; and Alex Vega, 22, of San Bruno.

veronica.rocha@latimes.com

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

ALSO

Emergency declaration sought in Oakland after deadly warehouse fire

How to help Oakland warehouse survivors and the families of those killed

A narcissist or an eccentric? Derick Almena, the man behind the Ghost Ship, left conflicting impressions


UPDATES:

2:55 p.m.: This article was updated with details from the Coroner’s Bureau. 

2:10 p.m.: This article was updated with new comments about the fire investigation from Jill A. Snyder.

9:45 a.m.: This article was updated with new details from Kelly.

This article was originally published at 9:15 a.m.


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