Charred windows and walls of the artist's collective Ghost Ship. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Death toll climbs to 36 in Oakland fire; crews temporarily halt search

First responders have recovered 36 bodies from the charred remains of the Ghost Ship warehouse where a three-alarm fire tore through a party on Friday night.

Oakland Fire Battalion Chief Melinda Drayton said at a news conference Monday morning that fire officials “absolutely believe” that the victim count will continue to rise, as only about 70 percent of the building has been searched so far.

The Alameda County coroner’s bureau on Sunday evening released the names of seven victims of the fire at the artist collective, identified as Cash Askew, 22, David Cline, 24, Travis Hough, 35 and Donna Kellogg, 32, all of Oakland, and Nick Gomez-Hall, 25, of Coronado in San Diego County, Sara Hoda, 30, of Walnut Creek, and Brandon Wittenauer, 32, of Hayward.

A 17-year-old victim has also been identified by their family.

Crews stopped search operations at 12:18 a.m. today after they found that a five-foot section of wobbly, un-reinforced exterior wall at the front of the warehouse was leaning three inches into the center of the building, threatening to collapse.

Structural engineers and contract workers are expected to arrive at 8 a.m., which will allow crews to resume operations between noon and 2 p.m., Drayton said.

Alameda County sheriff’s Deputy Tya Modeste said at today’s news conference that families have identified 11 of the victims, but that the three additional names will not be released until later today to give families a brief chance to grieve privately.

Oakland police Officer Johnna Watson said, “Families who have lost a loved one, that’s … our loved ones who, here in the city of Oakland, we have lost as a community.”

Federal investigators “feel very strongly” that the area of origin is located in the back and center part of the building.

The suspected area of origin was quarantined off Sunday night for additional investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Drayton said.

Drayton said that there is currently “no way of telling” the cause of the “extremely hot” fire.

On Sunday, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said that the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office has begun a criminal investigation into the tragic fire.

When asked about the criminal investigation, Watson said that first responders are focused on search and recovery, but that “we as a city are working to find those answers. We want to find those answers not only for the family, but our community.”

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