Oakland fire leaves 30 dead with death toll expected to rise

Building that housed art studios and residences had history of safety code violations

Recovery teams have found 30 bodies in the charred ruins of an Oakland, California loft building after a fire broke out during a weekend dance party, and the death toll is expected to rise, authorities said on Sunday.

Officials in Oakland released the death toll as recovery teams resumed their search of the fragile, burned-out building where an unauthorised gathering became the scene of one of the worst disasters in the city’s history.

Late on Saturday, a spokesman for the Alameda county sheriff, Sgt Ray Kelly, said that officials were "expecting the worst" and that two dozen people remained missing.

On Sunday an unofficial list of those unaccounted for, compiled by friends and family searching for loved ones, still showed about 30 names.

At a press briefing, Mr Kelly said: “In regards to the amount of people that are still missing, yes, it’s a significant number.”

Fire battalion chief Melinda Drayton said the search was only 20 per cent complete, and Mr Kelly was certain the death toll would increase. “That number will go up,” he said.

Mr Kelly told reporters teams had worked through the night, with a crane and floodlights, to reach bodies on the second floor of the warehouse. Officials said there were only two exits from the second floor, and no evidence of smoke detectors or sprinklers.

‘Bucket by bucket’

Firefighters searched the debris “bucket by bucket”, Ms Drayton said. “It was quiet, it was heartbreaking,” she added. “This will be a long and arduous process.”

The fire began at about 11.30pm on Friday, blazing for hours and trapping people within the warehouse, which was known locally as “the Ghost Ship”.

Officials said that they did not yet know the cause of the fire, and that there may have been as many as 50 to 100 people in the building when it began.

The warehouse had a history of safety code violations, city records showed, and a former resident told the Guardian that she had reported it to a fire marshal in 2014.

For years, it had housed art studios and makeshift residences in Oakland’s Fruitvale district.

The former resident said inside was a maze of fire hazards: a staircase made of wooden pallets, old pianos and couches, trinkets, furniture and ramshackle lean-to shelters.

Authorities did not immediately identify any victims, though most were believed to have been in their 20s and 30s.

The building lacked permits for housing, work or as a party venue. The city had received complaints about blight and opened an investigation into whether there was illegal construction within the warehouse.

An inspector had failed to gain access before the fire, said Oakland’s building and planning chief, Darin Ranalletti.

Guardian service