HEALTH & SAFETY
Live events sector
A devastating warehouse fire which killed at least 36 people in Oakland, California, has painful echoes with the 2003 ‘Great White’ disaster in Rhode Island where 100 people died and the more recent Colectiv nightclub fire in Bucharest – and is California’s deadliest structure fire in California since the 1906 earthquake and fire that killed hundreds in San Francisco.
The warehouse was the home and work space for the Satya Yuga artists’ collective, and known as the Ghost Ship, and was on the evening of the fire hosting an unlicensed concert promoted by house label 100% Silk. Among the victims of the fire were three artists scheduled to perform: Cherushii (Chelsea Faith), Obsidian Blade (Joey Casio) and DJ Nackt (Johnny Igaz). Among the 36 people who died were two UC Berkeley undergraduates, two alumni and one woman who volunteered at KALX, the campus radio station.
Victims of the blaze included artists, musicians, activists, community organisers and other young people who had came together for the event. The search for victims and evidence in the Fruitvale District warehouse fire concluded late on Tuesday night (6th December) as crews combed through the final ten percent of the building after tearing down a corner wall piece by piece with a crane. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Tuesday afternoon that it is looking at the possibility that a refrigerator or other appliance was the source of the fire
The Sacremento Bee commented: “There were propane tanks stashed in corners, plus space heaters, hot plates, candles, exposed electrical wires dangling from the ceiling. Gas-powered generators hummed mere feet away from handmade light fixtures hooked up with extension cords. But there was no sprinkler system and only two ways out of the Ghost Ship, a dilapidated Oakland warehouse where at least 36 people died Friday night in a blaze that erupted during an illegal dance music rave. It’s one of the deadliest fires in California’s history. The Ghost Ship was a disaster waiting to happen – and everyone who entered the place seemed to know it, for all 10,000 square feet of the warehouse was crammed with old furniture, rugs, makeshift bedrooms, art studios, instruments, old doors and half-finished sculptures.”
“Recreational vehicles were parked on the ground floor, and a shoddily hand-built staircase to the second level, which became a bottleneck for fleeing ravers, was literally made out of kindling” according to one artist quoted in The San Francisco Chronicle.
The building, which lacked sprinklers and smoke detectors, was not permitted for residential use, and would have required a special event permit to legally host concerts.
Nancy O’Malley, the district attorney of Almeda County in California, suggested that anyone found to be responsible fir the fire may be charged with murder. Speaking at a press conference O’Malley said the “range of charges could be murder all the way to involuntary manslaughter” for a culpable party, with the possibility for “other charges if the evidence presents that”..
Much of the blame for the tragedy has so far fallen on Ghost Ship founder Derick Almena, who leases the warehouse from owner Chor Ng. In his only televised interview since the fire, Almena told the Today programme he is “incredibly sorry” for the loss of life, but added when he signed the lease he believed he was taking on “a building that was to city standards, supposedly”. Almena was criticised for a Facebook post shortly after the blaze which read (in part) “Confirmed. Everything I worked so hard for is gone. Blessed that my children and Micah were at a hotel safe and sound… it’s as if I have awoken from a dream filled with opulence and hope…. to be standing now in poverty of self worth.”
In a statement released shortly after the fire, 100% Silk described the blaze as “an unbelievable tragedy, a nightmare scenario”, and offered its “condolences to everyone involved and their families”.
The Sacremento Bee said “The immediate impulse is to blame the city of Oakland for this horrific fire. The cause hasn’t been determined yet, but we know that the artist colony has been on the city’s radar for a while. The warehouse wasn’t zoned for residential use, nor licensed to be a nightclub, but that it was doing both was no secret.”
Other reports says that neighbours had complained about noise and activities at the Ghost Ship for years. In early 2015, police responded to reports of an illegal rave there. And less than a month ago, reports say that City inspectors opened an investigation into the habitability of the warehouse, but were never able to get inside to take a look. Residents have said they were told to hide all evidence of living there if authorities ever showed up. According to Oakland City records seen by US Guardian, police had previously investigated the warehouse – described by fire brigade officials as “maze-like and cluttered with objects, including wooden pallets” – but failed to take any concrete action. In the days following the fire and revelations over the fire suppression systems, tenants of similar artists’ residences around the Bay Area have seen eviction notices, increased pressure, and scrutiny.
Alameda County Sheriff’s spokesman J.D. Nelson said the autopsies completed have revealed the victims died of smoke inhalation and not burns. “The autopsies so far show the victims died from smoke inhalation,” he told KPIX 5. “It (their deaths) was before any fire or any collapse…If you see the video and you see all that smoke, that smoke is so deadly…it doesn’t take many breathes of smoke like that to put you on the ground.”
“The Alameda County district attorney’s office wishes to offer our deepest condolences to the families and friends whose loved ones perished in the fire,” said DA O’Malley, who will now work with local police to lead a criminal investigation into the tragedy. “Our hearts are broken for our community, for those who lost family and friends and for those who experienced this horror.”
In related news, the Romanian festival promoter Interval is to cease operations immediately following “massive financial losses” in the 13 months since the fire at the Colectiv nightclub in Bucharest. Interval said in a statement it is “no longer able to continue putting together our next events […] until all our debts have been paid”. Interval did NOT promote the Colectiv show, the inaugural Interval 100 in Bucharest last November was badly affected by the Colectiv fire, with several venues pulling out amid what the promoter called a “witch hunt” by authorities in the aftermath of the tragedy. There was a mass closure of venues considered to be unsafe following the disaster, in which 64 people lost their lives after pyrotechnics ignited inflammable acoustic foam in the 700-capacity club.
“Regulated to Death” our article after the ‘Great White’ disaster can be found here: http://www.musiclawupdates.com/?p=207
Details on the Colectiv tragedy and other nightclub fires here: http://www.musiclawupdates.com/?p=6631