Authorities say still investigating cause of Oakland warehouse fire

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 13, 2016 1:25 PM

By Dan Whitcomb

(Reuters) - The cause of a fire at an Oakland warehouse that killed 36 people earlier this month has yet to be determined, federal and local authorities said on Tuesday, amid reports that overloaded electrical lines were to blame.

Jill Snyder, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said that the electrical system of the so-called "Ghost Ship" warehouse was being studied by investigators but had not been singled out as the cause of the fatal Dec. 2 blaze.

"The investigation is still ongoing and at this time no final determination has been made as to the exact cause of the fire," Snyder told reporters at a press conference on Tuesday.

Flames raced through what authorities say was an illegal dance party on the second floor of the sprawling two-story building, which was permitted as a warehouse but leased to an artists' collective.

It was the deadliest blaze in the United States since 100 people perished in a 2003 nightclub fire in Rhode Island.

The 10,000-square-foot (900-square-metre) building lacked sprinklers and smoke detectors, and wooden pallets partially formed a makeshift stairway between the first and second floors, officials have said. It had just two exterior doors.

The local East Bay Times newspaper reported earlier on Tuesday that investigators, who have ruled out arson, were focusing on overloaded electrical lines at the rear of the warehouse as a possible cause of the fire.

But officials at the press conference said that no final determination had been made as to the cause of the blaze.

In response to questions from reporters about a lack of inspections at the "Ghost Ship" that might have caught hazardous conditions and prevented the deadly blaze, city and fire officials said they were working to identify gaps in the system that allowed the warehouse to slip through.

Reuters has reported that in the two years leading up to the fire, city officials had entered the building on numerous occasions and had multiple opportunities to see that residents were illegally living there in hazardous conditions.

The Oakland Police Department received dozens of complaints about the warehouse, and went inside at least half a dozen times, according to police reports and accounts from former tenants and visitors.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Alan Crosby)