A tragic fire in an Oakland, California, warehouse claimed the lives of thirty-six people, ranging from ages seventeen to sixty-one, making it one of the deadliest US conflagrations in a decade. Tragically, the building, known as the “Ghost Ship,” was an artist community, residence, performance space, and club. It has been referred to by those familiar with it as a “labyrinth,” “tinder box,” and “death trap.”
The cause of the fire, which broke out during an electronic music show, has not yet been determined, but arson has been ruled out. Multiple dangerous conditions in the warehouse could have led to the fire starting and spreading, and they also prevented more people from finding safety.
Negligent Conditions a Factor
The space and adjoining lot had racked up numerous safety concerns over the years. At least two property complaints were lodged in the month before the tragedy, citing excessive trash and improper building structure, while other records are being kept private due to an ongoing criminal investigation.
Negligence kills, and in the case of this building, the structure and condition of the Ghost Ship contributed to the fatalities. Ideally, commercial buildings should be inspected once a year, but no records have turned up for any inspections of the Ghost Ship in the past thirty years. These skipped inspections could have called to attention the very issues that led to so many deaths. Residential living would not have been permitted there, and the party that was in progress would have required a special permit.
Not Enough Exits, Unsafe Premises
The warehouse reportedly only had two exits, dangerous and insufficient wiring, a makeshift staircase made of pallets, and a winding layout that impeded escape. Victims were unable to find the exit when the blaze ripped through, although some tragically managed to text love ones and comfort each other before succumbing to smoke and fire.
The staircase between the first and second floors didn’t lead directly to an exit. Those trapped had to try to crawl around two pianos and several walls to make it outside. In the heat and smoke of the fire, it was very difficult to figure out how to get out. Some of those who made it were guided by people calling out the way to the exit from the faraway door.
Fire Risks Long Known
According to a former resident, there were also at least ten RVs and trailers inside, as well as makeshift sleeping lofts separated by windows, furniture, and more pallets. A fire prevention company, the Harrington Group, states, “Idle pallets present a serious fire hazard. Geometrically, a stack of idle pallets creates almost perfect conditions for an intense fire with ample air supply to many surfaces, allowing a fire to grow rapidly.” Scores of pianos and other wooden objects filled the space within the Ghost Ship warehouse. Added to this was improper wiring that often overloaded.
Lack of Building Inspections a Problem in Oakland
In determining who was responsible for the condition of the residence and who should’ve been ensuring visitors and residents were safe, investigators are also trying to ascertain why the warehouse fell through the cracks on the inspection rolls. Budget cutbacks have hampered the fire department, and a problematic database duplicates some inspections while leaving some buildings off. A 2014 report indicated that 4,000 out of 11,000 buildings in Oakland were going uninspected.
San Francisco Premises Liability Lawyer
If you or a loved one has been harmed by a property owner’s negligence, you can speak with an attorney today who can help you understand both your rights and how to go about seeking financial compensation. The Law Offices of J. Chrisp have extensive experience in personal injury law, including premises liability. To get started, simply give us a call at (707) 549-8166 or reach us through the online form on this page.