City of Oakland declares ‘local state of emergency’ after warehouse fire

Dapree Doyle/Senior Staff

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In light of Friday’s fire, Oakland Fire Department Chief Teresa Deloach Reed proclaimed the city of Oakland to be in a “local state of emergency” at a press conference Tuesday night — a decision that Oakland City Council will ratify Thursday.

The fire that prompted this response took place at an Oakland warehouse about 11:15 p.m. Friday. Being in a local state of emergency will allow Oakland to be eligible for state or federal reimbursement to support its community members through this disaster, Reed said. Businesses would be refunded for the profits they have lost — Reed used the Wendy’s across the street from the “Ghost Ship” warehouse as an example, since it has been closed in the four days following the fire.

Reed emphasized that the response to the fire has been a “unified command,” referencing the help OFD has received from organizations like the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office and the Oakland Police Department.

“We can’t do this by ourselves,” Reed said at the press conference. “This was a huge operation and it was something that we did not expect … would happen here. But we all came together and I think we’re pretty close to telling the families that we have completely searched this warehouse.”

Thirty-five of the 36 victims from the fire have been identified by ACSO, according to spokesperson Sgt. J.D. Nelson. One of the victims, Jenny Morris, was a UC Berkeley student. Another, David Cline, was a UC Berkeley alumnus, and three others — Donna Kellogg, Nick Gomez-Hall and Chelsea Dolan — had Berkeley ties.

Nelson said ACSO has notified the families of the 30 of the victims and are in the process of notifying the other five.

In an earlier press conference Tuesday, Darin White, deputy chief of OFD’s Field Operations Bureau, said officials will finish removing the debris from the building by Wednesday at midnight, but Reed today emphasized that officials are still in the process of searching the building.

“We will be out here until we can definitely say that we have searched that entire structure and there are no more victims within it,” Reed said at the press conference. “It’s going to take as long as it’s going to take. We are not going to rush the process.”

According to Alexandra Corneiro, a spokesperson for the San Francisco division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, ATF has not yet determined the origin and cause of fire. She said ATF is considering all items within the building structure as potential sources for the fire.

At the press conference, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said starting Tuesday night, the city will start making planning and building records regarding the warehouse property available to the public. The records will date back 30 years starting from Friday and will include both the warehouse and the adjacent vacant lot.

As of 2007, Chor Ng is the owner listed for the warehouse and the nearby lot, Schaaf said. The warehouse was not permitted for residential use nor public assembly use. Prior to the fire, Schaaf added, there were three complaints made to the warehouse’s address, including one regarding the construction of a house or structure without permits and one regarding dangerous materials blocking the sidewalk.

According to Schaaf, there are 18 complaints filed against the vacant lot, 16 of which were made between 1988 to 2014. Six of the complaints, however, were made during 2016. Some of the more recent complaints include illegal interior building structure and garbage piling up on property. Schaaf said the lot has also allegedly been used as a parking lot and camping ground.

According to Schaaf, the city is committed to doing everything within its power to improve the safety of the community and prevent a similar tragedy from happening in the future.

“We will not only make Oakland safer, we will make this nation safer while at the same time lifting up this passionate, creative, exceptional community that we are so proud to call home that is Oakland, California,” Schaaf said at the press conference.

UC Berkeley alumna Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, also appeared at the press conference, expressing her condolences for the victims and their loved ones. She praised the city of Oakland for its dignified response to the tragedy, stating that it is unparalleled to any the city has faced including the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and 1991 Oakland firestorm.

“I just have to say that I’m very proud of my city,” Lee said at the press conference.

Schaaf will hold another press conference at the downtown emergency operations center Wednesday. The time for the briefing has not yet been determined.

Chantelle Lee is an assistant news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ChantelleHLee.