33 Bodies Recovered in Oakland Warehouse Fire; Search Continues

Officials say less than half of the building has been searched.

ByABC News
December 4, 2016, 9:15 PM

— -- Searchers have recovered 33 bodies -- some of them teens 17 years old or possibly younger -- from a fire-ravaged warehouse in Oakland, California, that housed artist studios and was hosting a dance party when the deadly blaze broke out, officials said today.

Sgt. Ray Kelly of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office warned that he anticipates that "the number of victims will rise" from a fire officials say may be the deadliest ever in Oakland. The search effort is expected to last for days, he said.

Kelly called the number of deaths "astronomical."

Among the victims was the son of an Alameda County sheriff's deputy, officials said.

Names of six of the eight victims identified by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office Coroner’s Bureau were released this evening after their families were notidied. They were: Cash Askew, 22, Oakland; David Cline, 24, Oakland; Nick Gomez-Hall, 25, Coronado, California; Sara Hoda, 30, Walnut Creek, California; Travis Hough, 35, Oakland; Donna Kellogg, 32, Oakland; and Brandon Chase Wittenauer, 32, Hayward, California. Another victim was a 17-year-old whose name will not be released, according to a statement from the City of Oakland.

Authorities are asking families with missing loved ones to preserve DNA samples as a way of confirming the identities of those who died in the horrific blaze.

The District Attorney's Office has criminal investigation teams actively looking at the fire with the other law enforcement agencies involved in investigating the fire, according to a statement from the City of Oakland.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf told ABC News that she has ordered an investigation into the building's troubled history, including a complete review of all records of complaints. Libby also told ABC that she ordered an independent analysis into the city’s handling of this building and others like it.

The Oakland Fire Department responded to reports of a structure fire at the warehouse known as the "Ghost Ship" on 31st Avenue at around 11:32 p.m. on Friday night. Oakland Fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed said Ghost Ship appeared to function as a residential building that hosted a makeshift artists' studio, as well as parties like the one that took place on Friday night.

It's unclear if the building was equipped with smoke alarms, the fire chief added.

PHOTO: Firefighters work on the scene following an overnight fire that claimed the lives of at least nine people at a warehouse in the Fruitvale neighborhood, Dec. 3, 2016 in Oakland, California.
Firefighters work on the scene following an overnight fire that claimed the lives of at least nine people at a warehouse in the Fruitvale neighborhood, Dec. 3, 2016 in Oakland, California.
Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

Fire Department Battalion Chief Melinda Drayton told ABC News that firefighters have been impacted emotionally by bodies found. She described the precarious scene firefighters have encountered inside of what is left of the warehouse, where the second floor is hanging just above the heads of search crews, with pianos, appliances and other materials dangling from above.

Preliminary indications suggest the blaze was not caused by arson, but rather an electrical fire. The power went out inside the building when the fire began and the flames blocked the building's only exit, making it difficult for people inside to escape, an official briefed on the ongoing investigation told ABC News.

According to The Associated Press, Oakland officials said they had opened an investigation into the warehouse last month, after repeated complaints from neighbors who said trash was piling up and people were illegally living in the building, which was zoned as a warehouse.

Darin Ranelletti, of the Oakland Planning Department, told the AP the city opened an investigation Nov. 13 and an investigator went to the premises on Nov. 17 but could not get inside.

ABC Bay Area affiliate KGO-TV reported that Derick Ion, founded the Ghost Ship Artist Collective and ran it at the warehouse. ABC News reached out to Ion but did not immediately receive a response.

Ion appeared to address the fire in a Facebook post early on Saturday morning by saying that "everything I worked for is gone."

"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," he wrote.

Oakland's warehouses have become hubs for artists and musicians in recent years.

The Oakland-based weekly newspaper Eastbay Express has attributed gentrification and rising rents in the Bay Area as putting the Northern California region's counter-cultural arts scene in a crisis of space and money.

The Oakland Fire Department confirmed to the press that they are currently working with a variety of agencies in the aftermath of the tragedy, including the Alameda County Sheriff's Department, the Oakland Police Department, the Alameda County Search and Rescue, and the American Red Cross, among others.

Kelly asked the public to be patient as authorities look into the cause of the blaze, and continue to search for the missing and the dead.

"We will be here for days and days to come," Kelly said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.