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Witness testifies about managing to escape from Ghost Ship fire

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Oakland law enforcement officials display images from the scene of the “Ghost Ship” warehouse fire that claimed the lives of 36 people. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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A musician who was at the Ghost Ship warehouse in Oakland’s Fruitvale district last year when a fire broke out that killed 36 people testified Wednesday that he thought he would die in the blaze but managed to jump to safety from a second-floor window.

Aaron Marin, 46, the first witness in the preliminary hearing for Ghost Ship master tenant Derick Almena, 47, and creative director Max Harris, 27, said that after the fire erupted at the warehouse at 1309 31st Ave. on the night of Dec. 2, 2016, and he saw how hard it would be to get out, “I just accepted the fact that it was just over for me.”

But Marin, who stayed at the warehouse for several weeks just before the fire and now lives in Oregon, said he continued to look for means of escape and figured out that if he could get to a window on the second floor, where a large music party was going on, he might have a chance to get out.

Marin, who plays bass guitar and other instruments, said, “Everything was very loud — the fire itself and the panic of the people.”

Marin said, “I tried to alert people” to the fire and screamed but most people weren’t able to get out.

He said there wasn’t a ladder for people to get out from the second floor so he stuck one leg over the window ledge, then the other, hung from the ledge by his hands and dropped to the ground.

Marin said he landed on soft mud and wasn’t injured.

Almena and Harris, who are in custody in lieu of $750,000 bail, are each charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter for the fire.

The purpose of their preliminary hearing, which is expected to last five days, is to determine if there’s enough evidence for them to stand trial.

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said when she filed the charges against Almena and Harris on June 5 that their actions were “reckless” and created a high risk of death for the people who attended the dance party, for which Almena and Harris had failed to get permits from the city of Oakland.

Marin said Almena invited him to stay at the warehouse for several weeks and he said it was “a beautiful space where artists and other people would play music together and have an artists’ coalition.”

He said, “It was like walking into a museum. There were so many items that were beautiful.”

The hearing for Almena and Harris is packed with family members and friends of the 36 fire victims as well as a large group of reporters.

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