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‘Ghost Ship’ documents reveal Oakland inaction

The city of Oakland released hundreds of pages of documents Wednesday¬†related to the Ghost Ship fire in December that killed 36 people, including records of police responding to an “illegal rave” there in 2015.

The city released the records in response to at least 121 requests under the California Public Records Act seeking information about the deadliest fire in the city’s history, city officials said.

There were 36 people killed in the blaze, which broke out during an electronic music party at the Ghost Ship, a warehouse that had been converted to a living and events space at 1315 31st Ave. in the city’s Fruitvale District.

In response to the deluge of requests, the city set up a single point of contact for the requests, but continued delays in the release of records led to threats of litigation.

Some of the police records released today are heavily redacted and the city still has not released some requested records, including a list of buildings that the fire department is required to inspect and any city correspondence with the property owner, Chor Ng. City officials said those documents will be released at a later date.

In a statement that accompanied the document release, Mayor Libby Schaaf said:

“I recognize the media and others have been frustrated by the time it has taken to assemble the documents form many different departments because we were determined to cast a wide net to provide all relevant information and take an exhaustive look at not just the warehouse, but also the immediately adjacent properties.”

Schaaf added:

“Transparency is critical. Our impacted community deserves to know all the facts about this tragedy.”

Fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed previously said during a news conference in December that the fire department was not required by law to inspect the property and hadn’t inspected it in over a decade. But city officials have not answered any questions about what the police knew about the property and when.

Today’s records reveal that Oakland police were aware that the property had been used as a living and event space at least since 2015. On March 1, 2015, Oakland police Officer Hector Chavez was flagged down on reports of an illegal rave with alcohol sales.

Much of Chavez’s report is redacted, but Chavez wrote that he did not cite anyone for a violation to the city’s cabaret permitting ordinance.

After he left, someone called police about 20 minutes later and said there were several people inside the warehouse refusing to leave. Police again responded and stood by as everyone left.

Later that afternoon an Oakland police officer responded to help someone gather his belongings from inside the warehouse.

On Feb. 2, 2015, police responded to report that a resident had been locked out. Police dispatch logs referred to the warehouse as “an illegal shared housing.” Police responded and mediated the situation, advising them on their rights and obligations as landlord and tenant.

Aside from the police calls, there were also calls for service at the property to the Public Works and Planning and Building departments.

Public works responded to two reports of illegal dumping at a vacant lot next door in September 2014 and March 2016.

There were three code enforcement complaints dating back to 2005, including for homeless people camping on the vacant lot, construction materials blocking the sidewalk and construction of a house or structure without permits.

The documents released also included extensive reports from the firefighters who first responded the night of the fire and those who spent days searching the burned building as 36 bodies were gradually pulled from the rubble.

Firefighters arrived about a minute after the initial call and found heavy black smoke pushing from the doors and windows. As some firefighters started working to secure a water supply, two others went inside to search for victims. But after 30 minutes, firefighters switched to defensive operations as the fire inside was too heavy to put out that way.

When firefighters punched a hole in the roof, hot, dark pressurized smoke poured out. They continued cutting a 6- by 30-foot trench on the roof, and while flames never emerged from the hole, smoke kept pouring out.

Initially they found seven bodies, but over the next few days they painstakingly sifted through the debris in crews called “bucket brigades,” clearing the rubble bucket by bucket. Some crews needed to come in with chainsaws and other equipment to dismantle interior structures.

Other records related to the fire were withheld because of an ongoing criminal investigation by the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office. So far no charges have been filed against the building owner or the master tenant, Derick Ion Almena.

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