1 year after tragic ‘Ghost Ship’ fire, community continues to mourn, reflect

Joshua Jordan/Senior Staff

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In the year since the “Ghost Ship” warehouse fire, Christopher Morris has heard new songs that he knows his sister Jenny Morris would have enjoyed.

Jenny Morris, an artist with a passion for music, was one of four UC Berkeley students and alumni that died in the Oakland warehouse fire Dec. 2, 2016, which claimed 36 lives and left the community reeling.

After the fire, hundreds of people from the Bay Area mourned the loss of family members and friends lost in the fire. The tragedy of the loss continues to impact and shape the East Bay community.

The Morris family has attended several events in the year since the fire that focused on the lives of the artists that performed at and survived the Ghost Ship fire, according to Jenny Morris’ father Michael Morris.

City responds

In response to the Ghost Ship fire, Berkeley City Council directed the fire prevention division of the Berkeley Fire Department, or BFD, to inspect buildings that have had issues related to fire safety in the past, according to BFD Assistant Chief of Special Operations Keith May.

BFD inspected about 12 properties for fire safety in various Berkeley neighborhoods, May said, and found that most — similar to the Ghost Ship warehouse — were in industrial areas. Some of these inspections resulted in the eviction of residents because of unsafe building conditions.

Even before the Ghost Ship fire, while responding to a medical call, BFD discovered an apartment complex on Ashby Avenue without fire alarms or electricity. May said this was a major fire and safety hazard for the building, so the residents of the building were evicted.

“Had (a fire) resulted in there, we’d be in the headlines,” May said.

May stressed the importance of fire safety in buildings that people occupy, adding that the Fire Department is available to answer questions anyone may have. He said occupants should ensure that they are taking all the steps necessary to prevent fires.

“If you are the property owner,” May said, “that comes back to you.”

Ghost Ship warehouse master tenant Derick Almena and creative director Max Harris were arrested June 5 on 36 counts of alleged manslaughter in relation to the deadly fire.

Both defendants have plead not guilty. The preliminary hearing for Almena and Harris was set to be held Dec. 4 but was postponed to Wednesday morning, according to Teresa Drenick, spokesperson for the office of Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley.


Joshua Jordan/Senior Staff

Since the fire, O’Malley’s investigative team has conducted more than 75 witness interviews, used more than 12 search warrants, reviewed more than 6,000 pages of investigative reports and examined more than 300 pieces of physical evidence, according to a press release published in June.

The press release alleges that Almena and Harris “acted with gross or reckless conduct akin to a disregard for human life.” It alleges that the owners allowed people to live in the warehouse and allowed large groups to assemble in the warehouse while blocking one of two exits from the building, which stored highly flammable materials.

Moving forward

To commemorate Jenny Morris, her family has set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for different projects, including the Ukulele Kids Club, which brings music to children in hospitals, according to Michael Morris.

The family chose the Ukulele Kids Club because Jenny Morris was herself a musician who played several instruments, including the ukulele.

Jenny Morris was especially a fan of indie folk and alternative music, according to Christopher Morris. The siblings connected over their shared passion for music.

While there have been many changes in the past year, Toshiko Morris, Jenny Morris’ mother, said the biggest change is “that we are missing our daughter.”

“There are a lot of songs that will bring up a memory of her and make us think about her,” Christopher Morris said. “I think music does have the power to heal.”

Contact Henry Tolchard at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @htolchard.