A woman falls to her knees in tears near a memorial in Oakland, Calif. Sunday, December 4, 2016 following a large fire that occurred Friday, December 2 (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

At least 33 dead in Oakland warehouse fire

Many of the victims remain unidentified, their bodies freshly removed from a fire-gutted warehouse. Those that have been named came from far and wide, many from Oakland. Most were in their 20s or 30s. One was 17.

What they had in common was what can only be called a fiery death and a taste for underground techno music that brought them to an east Oakland warehouse party.

So far, nearly three dozen dead have been pulled from the charred interior of the warehouse known as “Ghost Ship” where a dance party turned deadly Friday when a fire quickly spread through the eclectic space.

The fire was the deadliest fire in Oakland’s history.

“The scope of this tragedy is tremendous,” said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf at a news conference Sunday near where crews have been working around the clock to remove bodies from the burned building.

As day two of the search effort bled into Sunday night, the body count rose to 33 with authorities expecting that number to rise. And while the identification of many victims remains a long way off as DNA and dental records will have to be used, a handful of victims have been identified.

The fire broke out at about 11:30 p.m. Friday at the 31st Avenue and International Boulevard location, and fire crews were on scene within three minutes. An unknown number of people escaped as dozens were trapped inside the building where the roof and second floor collapsed.

The 12-person search effort didn’t even begin until Saturday morning, and has been a slow-going affair as the building remained unsafe due to burned rafters and weakened walls.

Still, crews have been methodically sifting through the wreckage, filling orange and white buckets with debris in an assembly line fashion.

The search, which was only about 40 percent complete Sunday evening, is expected to continue for several days.

“I don’t know how many more people are left in the building,” said Alameda County Sheriff’s spokesperson Sgt. Ray Kelly, who noted that most of the families of the still missing expect their loved ones to be among the dead.

As the search process plods on, family and friends of those still to be accounted for wait for the bad news.

Steve Guilliams, 34, of San Francisco, had a friend who was working sound at the event who he believes did not make it. Guilliams also knew several people who were able to escape the fire.

“I had friends who were just lucky enough to be working the door,” he said. That allowed Guilliams and others a way out.

Authorities have said most of the victims are in their 20s and 30s — and some in their teens. They have also said some were from outside the United States but did not say where. There were also transgender victims.

So far seven of the 33 victims have been identified. They include: Cash Askew, 22; David Clines, 35; Travis Hough, 35; and Donna Kellogg, 32, all of Oakland; Nick Gomez-Hall, 25, of Coronado; Sara Hoda, 30, of Walnut Creek; and Brandon Chase Wittenauer, 32, of Hayward.

Kelly also confirmed that one of the victims was a son of an Alameda County deputy. “We’re still dealing with that as we deal with the other victims, and our department is hurting from that,” Kelly said.

The converted warehouse was not permitted for habitation but people who visited the space said people lived inside of the eclectic two story building.

“There were definitely people living there,” said 42-year-old Oakland resident Daniel Salazar who visited several times. “It was a cool spot.”

Meanwhile fire investigators as well as a team of criminal investigators are on the scene and the city plans to complete a thorough inquiry into the building’s permitting and possible safety hazards.

But Schaaf cautioned that no conclusion should be made about the fire’s cause.

Family assistance

A Family Assistance Center has been set up at 2425 E. 12th St. where family and friends can go to find out information about loved ones, and people can also call the Alameda County coroner’s bureau at (510) 382-3000 for more information.

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