Oakland warehouse fire death toll rises to 36 as officials find potential point of origin

Dapree Doyle/Senior Staff

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Update 12/05/2016: This article has been updated to reflect additional information from Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin.

Oakland officials resumed searching “Ghost Ship” — the Oakland warehouse that burned Friday — at 9 a.m. Monday after halting recovery efforts when the structure was deemed unsafe, according to Oakland Police Department spokesperson Johnna Watson.

Firefighters have discovered the potential point of origin of the fire. A square footage area near the back of the building with significant charring and damage — where the steel has been twisted and warped — has been quarantined off for additional investigation, said Oakland Fire Department Battalion Chief Melinda Drayton at a press conference Monday.

The fire began about 11:15 p.m. at the warehouse, where many — including two UC Berkeley students — had assembled to watch a music performance featuring electronic artist Golden Donna. The two campus students, Jenny Morris and Vanessa Plotkin, are among the many whose whereabouts are still unconfirmed.

As of Monday morning, officials have recovered a total of 36 victims from the wreckage, according to Alameda County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Tya Modste. Of the 36 victims, 11 have been identified — among them UC Berkeley alumnus David Cline. Modste added that ACSO will not be updating the list of identified victims at the time, in order to give family members the chance to update other relatives.

At approximately 12:18 a.m. Monday, OFD authorized a full work stoppage. According to Drayton, a five-foot unreinforced section of the exterior wall of the warehouse is leaning inward three inches, alerting officials to the possibility of a collapse. As of 9 a.m. Monday, OFD has restarted their recovery efforts in the warehouse.

Based on weather reports, OFD anticipates rain to begin Wednesday and increase by Friday. Drayton said, however, that OFD will not speed up the search process to get ahead of the rain.

“We’re going to be just as comprehensive, just as methodical and just as analytical to make sure that we’re successful in a full recovery in the next few days,” Drayton said at the press conference.

Watson said the primary focus of OPD is currently on search and recovery. Once the recovery efforts have been completed, OPD will shift the investigation appropriately. According to Watson, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF, has already conducted preliminary investigations.

“We as a city collectively are working to find those answers,” Watson said at the press conference. “We want to find provide answers not only for the families but for our community.”

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin released a statement about the fire on his website Monday evening, calling it the “largest loss of life due to a disaster since the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.”

Arreguin added that the city of Berkeley will continue to offer support to the city of Oakland, stating that the tragedy brought to light the critical need for safe housing and the dangerous housing conditions people are often forced to live in.

In his statement, Arreguin thanked first responders for their heroic work and emphasized that the city of Berkeley was also impacted by the tragedy.

“Our entire region is in mourning, including the City of Berkeley,” Arreguin said in his statement. “At least five victims have connections to Berkeley including students and alumni of UC Berkeley. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims, those who are still missing and their families.”

Check back for updates.

Staff writer Chantelle Lee also contributed to this report.

Harini Shyamsundar is an assistant news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @hshyamsundar.