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$33m settlement for Ghost Ship fire lawsuits

The city of Oakland has reached a $32.7 million settlement with the families of those killed by the tragic blaze at  unlicensed music venue and artists’ collective Ghost Ship in 2016.

The fire, which was the worst structural disaster in northern California since the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, killed 36 people in total, most of whom were at Ghost Ship for an electronic music party.

The Oakland City Council has now authorised the settlements of lawsuits filed by the families of 32 victims.

“This was a horrific tragedy that deeply impacted every corner of our community,” reads a statement from the city attorney’s office. According to the statement, the city decided to settle because of the possible legal costs, and does not acknowledge any liability for the incident.

“This was a horrific tragedy that deeply impacted every corner of our community”

Prosecutors contend that Derick Almena, the master tenant on the warehouse lease, was criminally negligent when he converted and sublet the space as a residence for artists and an event venue.

Almena was charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter, with a retrial – following an initial mistrial – scheduled for October. A co-defendant, Max Harris, was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter charges last year, while the building’s owner, Chor Ng, has not been charged with a crime.

The blaze, which was believed to have been caused by an electrical fire, echoed another tragic incident at the Colectiv nightclub in Bucharest, Romania, the same year, which claimed the lives of 64 people.

Last year, prison sentences were handed out to 13 people in conjunction with the Colectiv fire, including the venue owners, pyrotechnic specialists and city officials.

Photo: Jim Heaphy/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0) (cropped)

 


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Third unlicensed venue closed in the US

A third unlicensed venue in the United States has been closed in the wake of the Oakland fire in California that killed 36 people in an illegal converted warehouse in December.

Drxvms in Athens, Ohio, was recently subject to an inspection by the Ohio Department of Commerce that found a redevelopment licence had recently expired, and there were fire safety issues, according to the Athens NewsThe venue, behind a clothing store, had hosted shows since Spring 2016.

Drxvms is said to be under temporary closure as venue manager, Terry Smith, works with the city and state “to ensure the venue is a safe place for people to gather and listen to great live music.” He continued: “We had a few code issues with our building that we are currently working to fix. As we move forward, we have decided to use this downtime to our advantage to go ahead and add some new features to our business that will be announced at a later date.”

News of the inspection and closure follows an LA Times report that questioned the safety of venues in Los Angeles after finding the underground warehouse scene thriving.  The article references the fire that took place at illegally converted warehouse, Ghost Ship (pictured), in Oakland where 36 people died during a concert in December. Since then, an investigation by the Denver Fire Department found a “hazardous environment” in a Colorado venue and unauthorised live/work space, Rhinoceropolis, which has been shut down.

The LA Times’ undercover report cited similar findings by the Ohio Department of Commerce, including reports of no sprinklers, fire extinguishers, unlicensed alcohol on sale, limited exits and a nonchalant attitude towards smoking and the disposal of cigarettes indoors.

 


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Report questions safety in Californian venues

Questions are being raised over the safety of Los Angeles’ live music scene after the Oakland fire as the underground venue trade continues to thrive.

Illegal events are said to lack the safety equipment required at licensed venues and aren’t being monitored by government officials, according to a report in the LA Times.

The article references the fire that took place at illegally converted warehouse, Ghost Ship (pictured), in Oakland where 36 people died during a concert in December.

Since then, an investigation by the Denver Fire Department found a “hazardous environment” in a Colorado venue and unauthorised live/work space, Rhinoceropolis, which has since been shut down.

However, there are many more venues continuing to operate with a lack of regard for safety, according to the undercover report.

The Times article says that authorities don’t actively search for security violations, instead awaiting complaints from the public about specific addresses.

Three years of Los Angeles department records reportedly display less than 25 cases of investigations into building owners.

As many as five underground performances take place in LA over any one weekend and organisers are typically secretive about their whereabouts.

Reports of no sprinklers, fire extinguishers, unlicensed alcohol on sale, limited exits and a nonchalant attitude towards smoking and the disposal of cigarettes indoors are rife, according to the Times.

Money was cited as a reason for venue owners not applying for a legal permit, therefore avoiding being hit with expensive security and access improvement costs.
 


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Venue shuttered in post-Oakland safety push

A ‘DIY’ venue and cultural space in Denver, Colorado, has been closed for “numerous serious fire code violations” following the deadly blaze at California venue Ghost Ship on 2 December.

According to the Denver Fire Department, an investigation – reportedly in response to complaints from residents – revealed a “hazardous environment including extension cords used for permanent wiring, wrapping paper on the walls and plastic on the ceiling” at Rhinoceropolis, widely recognised as the focal point of Denver’s underground music scene.

Additionally, the venue is, like Ghost Ship, “not zoned for residential use and therefore does not have the required smoke detection devises [sic] and fire suppression systems (ie sprinkler systems)”, says the fire brigade.

In addition to serving as a music and exhibition venue, Rhinoceropolis was used as a live/work space for artists. Its management says it anticipates being able to reopen as a venue.

“Shutting things down is not a solution”

In a statement released to Denver7, local cultural association RiNo Arts District says the venue’s closing is “likely a knee-jerk response to the tragedy at Ghost Ship” and that it is working towards “reopen[ing] Rhinoceropolis as a music venue as soon as possible”.

It continues: “With urgency, we will be continuing our conversation with the city about the importance of artist-run spaces and what we all can do to help ensure they continue to exist in a safe, but affordable, way, so that our artists can live and create in our urban core.

“Shutting things down is not a solution. Working together, creatively, to address safety issues while allowing creative uses is.”

 


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Oakland fire: Promoter could face murder charges

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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