Shortly before 11:30 P.M. on the evening of Friday, December 2, a fire broke out at Ghost Ship, an Oakland warehouse used as a communal living space for artists.  Fed by a large amount of wood and flammable debris, the fire, which erupted while Ghost Ship was hosting a concert, quickly grew into a massive blaze, eventually claiming 36 lives in the nation’s deadliest fire since the Station Nightclub Fire in Rhode Island, which killed 100 victims in 2003.  Though the ATF has concluded its probe into the devastating events at Ghost Ship, questions about cause – and culpability – still linger.  Our Ventura burn injury lawyers examine this terrible tragedy in closer detail.

Residents Recall Unsafe Conditions at Oakland Warehouse Where Fire Erupted, Killing 36

“To think when I was squeezing out of that gate there were people suffocating inside is such a horrific thought,” said Ghost Ship survivor Alastair Boone, who was able to force her way through a side-yard fence while the fire raged inside.  “People were dying right in front of me,” Boone continued, “and I didn’t know.”

The death toll at Ghost Ship, initially reported at 30, climbed to 36 by the time the search was complete, making the blaze one of the country’s deadliest.  Contributing to the high number of fatalities was the layout of Ghost Ship itself: a sprawling, 10,000-square-foot warehouse strewn with predominantly wooden art installations, mannequins, furniture, and makeshift structures that ultimately created a deadly labyrinth for the victims trapped inside.

“The building was full of… driftwood and nails sticking out everywhere,” Danielle Boudreaux, who became a resident of Ghost Ship in 2013, told the Los Angeles Times.  “There was no code.  When you stepped on it, the whole thing jiggled all over the place.”

“That place was just a death trap,” said another former resident, 58-year-old jewelry maker Shelley Mack.  “I didn’t think it was going to last this long before it went up or somebody shut it down.”

Who Will Be Held Liable for Victims’ Deaths in the Ghost Ship Warehouse Disaster?

The hazardous conditions at Ghost Ship – which was never approved for residential occupation – had caused issues before the December 2 tragedy.  Journalists with the New York Times discovered that the warehouse’s owner, Chor Nar Siu Ng, who acquired the property in 1988, had previously received fines for “nuisance or substandard or hazardous or injurious” building conditions.

Before the disaster, various Ghost Ship tenants complained about building safety violations to the collective’s founder, Derick Ion Almena.  Unfortunately, Almena and his wife, Micah Allison, did little to address residents’ concerns – ultimately, with tragic results.
“They lure you in with all these promises about what they’re going to do with your deposit and your rent,” Mack said.  “They don’t do any of it.  They just party with it.”

Almena himself has shed little light on the tragedy.  He has largely avoided making public statements about the cause of the blaze – or about matters of liability.”

“I’m not going to answer these questions on this level,” he told hosts Matt Lauer and Tamron Hall during a recent appearance on The Today Show.  When Hall confronted Almena with Mack’s accusations about misusing tenants’ rent, he stated, “I don’t want to talk about it.  I don’t want to talk about me.  I don’t want to talk about profiting.  This is not profit.  This is loss.  This is a mass grave.”

When asked about accountability for his possible role in the disaster, Almena avoided answering the question.  “Should I be held accountable?” he asked.  “I can barely stand here right now.”

As Lauer and Hall ended the interview, Almena asked, “What do you want me to say?  I’m not going to answer these questions.”

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Though the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) has completed its probe into the disaster, investigators remain uncertain as to what caused the fire.  Investigators have ruled out their initial suspect – a faulty refrigerator located near the fire’s point of origin – but are continuing to examine “everything that’s electrical.”

In terms of accountability for the fire – and justice for the victims – investigators are assessing the possibility of criminal prosecution.  Depending on the cause of the fire, one or more people may end up being charged with aggravated arson, reckless burning, voluntary manslaughter, and/or involuntary manslaughter.  Independently of criminal charges, which are handled by a prosecutor, surviving loved ones of Ghost Ship fire victims may also be able to file civil lawsuits for wrongful death.  However, with the cause of the accident still unknown, liability for the blaze has yet to be determined.

Rely on a Ventura Personal Injury Lawyer If You Were Severely Burned Due to Another’s Negligence

Even before the fatalities reached their final count, Alameda County Sheriff’s Department Sergeant Ray Kelly described the loss of life as “astronomical.”  For survivors who lost friends and family that night, the devastation of the Ghost Ship tragedy is likely to persist long after the physical injuries have healed.  Our thoughts are with them as they cope with the aftermath of this terrible event.
If you’d like to contribute your support to the survivors of the Oakland warehouse fire, you can make a donation through the crowdfunding site YouCaring, which has already raised more than $633,000 of its $750,000 goal.

If you or someone you love were severely injured in a fire on another person’s property in the California area, our Ventura personal injury lawyers are here to listen to your case. Call today for a free consultation at our Ventura or Santa Barbara offices.