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California

Photos show squalid conditions inside warehouse before deadly fire

 Image of one part of the Oakland warehouse taken before the fire.
Image of one part of the Oakland warehouse taken before the fire.
(Handout)

Photos from a former resident of the warehouse where more than 30 people lost their lives in a Friday evening fire show filthy, seemingly unsafe conditions.

The nearly 10,000-square-foot warehouse lacked sprinklers and had a staircase partly made of wooden pallets, former residents say. The fire occurred during a concert at the space.

The photos show cluttered conditions, with electrical wires running through the space, exposed duct work and propane gas canisters seemingly hooked up to a heating system.  

 

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If the fire is determined to be an arson, prosecutors could bring murder or aggravated arson charges — with one count for each person killed.  

The photos also show some parts of the warehouse made unpassable by discarded furniture, wood, doors and even shopping carts.

Here’s what we know.

Q: What was the warehouse used for?

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A number of artists lived at the warehouse, though it was not permitted for residency, according to a local official and former residents. And whoever organized the party never obtained permits, city officials said.

Q: What were the conditions like?

On the first floor of the factory, a half dozen RVs had been parked to provide living spaces for residents. 

Shelley Mack, 58, said she paid $700 a month to live inside a trailer parked in the warehouse from November 2014 to February 2015.

She said she had been drawn to the space by a Craigslist ad that promised cheap living space. Once there, she and several tenants — between 10 and 20, depending on the day — shared a single bathroom. The building had no heat, and in November 2014 a transformer blew, cutting off power.

“There was no electricity, and it was freezing in there,” she said.

Gas-powered generators were used to run small space heaters, and propane tanks placed indoor by the exits fueled other heaters, Mack said.

Partygoers described a rabbit warren of rooms crammed with belongings — pianos, organs, antique furniture, doors and half-finished sculptures.

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“It was a tinderbox,” said Brooke Rollo, 30, who lives less than a mile from the scene and had gone to parties there.

Firefighters who responded to Friday’s three-alarm blaze described the interior as a labyrinth.

Image of one part of the Oakland warehouse taken before the fire.
Image of one part of the Oakland warehouse taken before the fire.
(Handout )

Q: What did officials know about the conditions?

Neighbors said they had contacted the city about trash and debris piled up outside the warehouse. Inspectors with Oakland’s Planning and Building Department had been investigating an allegation of illegal construction inside the building as well as allegations that people were living there. 

Police were repeatedly called to the warehouse to address complaints, Mack said. Those reports could not be confirmed to the The Times on Sunday by Oakland police.

A number of artists lived at the warehouse, though it was not permitted for residency, according to a local official and former residents. And whoever organized the party never obtained permits, city officials said.

After a December 2014 party, one partygoer notified the city Fire Department of unsafe conditions, and it was inspected, said Danielle Boudreaux, who spent time at the warehouse. She did not know the result. 

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