A couple embraces near the scene in Oakland, Calif. Sunday, December 4, 2016 (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Fire chief says cause of Oakland warehouse blaze is undetermined

Officials in Oakland asked for a declaration of emergency Tuesday, clearing the way for the city to receive federal and state funding to cover the massive response to a warehouse fire that left 36 people dead.

Oakland Fire Department Chief Teresa Deloach Reed said the local state of emergency declaration, which will be taken up for ratification Thursday by the City Council, will allow businesses affected by the fire to obtain reimbursement for lost revenue.

The three-alarm fire at the “Ghost Ship,” a warehouse at 1305 31st Ave., used as a live/work space by an artist collective, started about 11:30 p.m. Friday during an electronic music show.

Reed said the origin and cause the fire remain undetermined, four days after the tragic event.

Reed’s comments seemed to contradict Special Agent in Charge Jill Snyder of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, who said earlier Tuesday that a refrigerator near the back of the building was a possible ignition source.

However, Snyder said the cause has not been conclusively determined and investigators are continuing to search through the wreckage and are looking at other appliances and electrical outlets as a possible source for the blaze.

As of Tuesday evening, crews have searched 100 percent of the burned-out wreckage in the building.

Authorities brought in cadaver dogs and used other tools during the search and no more victims were found.

The coroner’s bureau has released the names of 17 victims, while an 18th, a San Francisco high school student, was identified by his school.

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley has launched a criminal probe into the incident.

Snyder said that authorities hope to complete the search of the building before rainy weather hits the Bay Area. The National Weather Service estimates that rain will come into the Bay Area late today.

Meanwhile, the man who ran the Oakland warehouse where 36 people died Friday night was contentious and defensive Tuesday morning as he appeared near the scene of the blaze in an early morning live interview on “The Today Show.”

“I’m only here to say I’m incredibly sorry,” said Derick Almena during the interview as he repeatedly dodged questions about the fire.

Almena, 46, lived in the “Ghost Ship” art space and warehouse with his wife and children and was the leaseholder of the building, and said in so many words that he didn’t believe the facility was a danger.

He refused to answer many of the direct questions asked by the show’s two hosts, but instead said he was appearing on television to “put his face and body” at the scene. Almena said he’d rather “lay on the floor and be trampled by the parents” than continue to answer the show host’s questions.

Three years ago, he said he signed a lease on the building, which had to be constantly fixed but he refused to talk about allegations posted by the show’s hosts that he made a profit on the building and refused to pay for upkeep.

“People didn’t walk through those doors because it was a horrible place. People did not seek us out to perform and express themselves because it was a horrible place,” Almena said.

The short interview ended after Almena continued to go on about how the focus on his interview should be to mourn, not cast blame.

One former resident, who was only identified to the San Francisco Examiner as Sam, said Almena knew the warehouse needed better electrical work. Additionally, the situation was chaotic for the two months Sam spent there.

“It was noisy all the time and the place was waiting to kill somebody,” said Sam, who has lived in other Oakland warehouses. “I have absolutely no doubt it was an electrical fire. I have no doubt it was preventable.”

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