No evidence of fire alarm system in warehouse where 36 died

A federal investigator said today there was no evidence of a fire alarm or suppression system inside a warehouse that caught fire in Oakland’s Fruitvale district on Friday night, killing 36 people.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday afternoon, Special Agent in Charge Jill Snyder from the San Francisco office of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said the fire on 31st Avenue near International Boulevard is the deadliest in the U.S. since 2003.

The fire, which began around 11:30 p.m. Friday, started on the first floor and smoke went up two stairwells, “trapping” occupants on the second floor, Snyder said.

The stairwells from the upper floor led internally down into the building rather than toward an exit, Snyder said.

She had said Tuesday that a refrigerator in the building may have been a cause of the blaze, but emphasized Wednesday that investigators are still “looking at every possible source of ignition.”

She said there is no evidence that the fire was intentionally set.

ATF investigators will remain at the scene for several more days and off-site analysis of evidence from the building will take several weeks, Snyder said.

She said investigators have also interviewed several people related to the building, but did not elaborate.

Earlier Wednesday, Alameda County sheriff’s Sgt. Ray Kelly said authorities have completed searching through the burnt-out wreckage for bodies and did not find any more beyond the three dozen already found.

The 36 deaths are the most in a U.S. fire since 100 people died in a nightclub in Rhode Island in February 2003.

Kelly said 35 of the 36 bodies that have been recovered have been identified but coroner’s officials will have to use dental records or DNA to identify the victim who remains unidentified because that person’s burn injuries were so severe.

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