OAKLAND (KRON) – UPDATE: Oakland authorities up death toll to 36 at warehouse fire.
ORIGINAL: Thirty-three bodies have been found and possibly dozens of people are still missing as of Sunday morning from inside a two-story Oakland warehouse being used as an artist collective that caught on fire during a party Friday night.
Eight people have been identified and their families have been notified. An Alameda County Sheriff’s deputy lost his son in the fire.
The victims in the fire are as young as 17 years old. U.C. Berkeley reported that three of their students are missing.
Authorities said they feared the toll could rise as high as 40 from the fire. Several dozen have been found alive.
Alameda County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ray Kelly said Saturday the bodies have been taken to the coroner’s office to be identified.
The victims include 17-year-olds and people from Europe and Asia and range in age from their teens to 30-plus years old, Kelly said. Officials have identified seven people who were killed using fingerprints.
Anxious family members who feared the worst gathered at the sheriff’s office to await word on their loved ones. They were told they may have to provide DNA samples to help identify remains.
As many as 100 people were there for a party Friday night when the fire broke out just before midnight. Fire officials were still investigating the cause of the blaze, but they said clutter fueled the flames, there were no sprinklers inside and few exits to escape.
The death toll was expected to rise, as crews using buckets and shovels slowly made their way through the building, finding victims where they least expected them, Alameda County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ray Kelly said.
He says excavators, a crane and dumpster trucks are being brought in to help in the recovery and the building is being flooded with light to allow crews to work through the night.
Kelly says crews will have to move very slowly as they pull out debris and look for more victims.
The fire broke out around 11:30 p.m. at a warehouse known as the “Ghost Ship”.
Oakland fire chief Teresa Deloche-Reed said at least another 25 people were unaccounted for as of Saturday morning and authorities were working to verify who was in the cluttered warehouse when the fire broke out around 11:30 p.m. Friday.
Alameda County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Ray Kelly said authorities were prepared to deal with 30 to 40 deaths.
Between 50 and 100 people were believed to have been at the party when the fire started, Deloche-Reed said. It was not immediately clear what started the fire, but there did not appear to be sprinklers in the building, she said.
The interior of the warehouse “made it difficult for people to escape,” Deloche-Reed said.
The warehouse was partitioned into artist studios and was packed with furniture, mannequins, statues, lamps, and other objects and did not have a clear entry or exit path, the fire chief said. The only way out of the second floor was a makeshift stairwell made of pallets.
“There is still a large portion of the building that still needs to be searched,” she said. “There is large timber and debris that will need to be removed and it’s going to have to be removed in a slow and methodical way.”
The fire caused the building’s roof to collapse and investigators were having trouble entering parts of the warehouse to search for any remaining bodies because the structure was deemed unsafe, Deloche-Reed said.
The building in a gritty part of Oakland was still smoldering Saturday as firefighters used tools to chop a path through debris.
The fire tore through the building during an event featuring musician Golden Donna’s 100% Silk West Coast tour.
Survivors said they struggled to find working fire extinguishers.
“It was too hot, too much smoke, I had to get out of there,” Bob Mule, a photographer and artist who lives at the building and suffered minor burns. “I literally felt my skin peeling and my lungs being suffocated by smoke. I couldn’t get the fire extinguisher to work.”
The victims are believed to be young, probably in the 20-30-year-old age group, Sgt. Kelly said. He also believes there more bodies still inside, but “Not going to get into the numbers game.”
There are survivors, according to the fire department. Recovery efforts had to be stopped because the warehouse has been deemed unsafe.
Officials plan on being at the scene of the fire for the next 48 hours and are still investigating what caused the fire.
People used a Facebook page Saturday to post and seek information on family and friends who may have been in the building.
Oakland police urged those concerned about missing people to call the Alameda County Sheriff’s Coroner’s Bureau at 510-382-3000.
The office said the coroners were also at the scene Saturday morning and unavailable for comment.