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Oakland fire: Promoter could face murder charges

District attorney Nancy O'Malley, leading the investigation into the deadly blaze at the unlicensed Ghost Ship, says those responsible could be charged with homicide

By Jon Chapple on 07 Dec 2016

Ghost Ship Oakland

Photos taken before the fire show a venue clad in wooden beams and cluttered with furniture

image © Oakland Ghost Ship

Nancy O’Malley, the district attorney of Almeda County in California, has suggested that anyone found to be responsible for the last weekend’s deadly Ghost Ship fire may be charged with murder.

Speaking at a press conference on Monday, O’Malley said the “range of charges could be murder all the way to involuntary manslaughter” for a culpable party, with the possibility for “other charges if the evidence presents that”.

At least 36 people lost their lives in a blaze at a converted warehouse in Oakland, California, late on Friday night. The warehouse was home to an artists’ collective, known as Ghost Ship, and was on the evening of the fire hosting an unlicensed concert promoted by house label 100% Silk.

Much of the blame for the tragedy has so far fallen on Ghost Ship founder Derick Almena, who leases the warehouse from owner Chor Ng. In his only televised interview since the fire, Almena told the Today programme he is “incredibly sorry” for the loss of life, but added when he signed the lease he believed he was taking on “a building that was to city standards, supposedly”.

The Ghost Ship was described by fire officials as “maze-like and cluttered with objects, including wooden pallets”

According to Oakland city records seen by US Guardian correspondents Sam Levin and Alan Yuhas, police had previously investigated the warehouse – described by fire brigade officials as “maze-like and cluttered with objects, including wooden pallets” – but failed to take any concrete action.

The building, which lacked sprinklers and smoke detectors, was not permitted for residential use, and would have required a special event permit to legally host concerts.

Among the victims of the fire were three artists scheduled to perform: Cherushii (Chelsea Faith), Obsidian Blade (Joey Casio) and DJ Nackt (Johnny Igaz).

In a statement released shortly after the fire, 100% Silk described the blaze as “an unbelievable tragedy, a nightmare scenario”, and offered its “condolences to everyone involved and their families”.

“The range of charges could be murder all the way to involuntary manslaughter”

The fire was the worst structural disaster in northern California since the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, and echoes similar recent tragedies at The Station in Rhode Island, where pyrotechnics ignited inflammable insulation foam during a concert by Great White, and Colectiv in Bucharest, where band Goodbye to Gravity and hundreds of clubgoers were caught in an almost identical blaze.

The Ghost Ship blaze is believed to have been caused by an electrical fire, possibly sparked by a faulty refrigerator.

“The Alameda County district attorney’s office wishes to offer our deepest condolences to the families and friends whose loved ones perished in the fire,” says O’Malley, who will now work with local police to lead a criminal investigation into the tragedy. “Our hearts are broken for our community, for those who lost family and friends and for those who experienced this horror.”


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