Oakland warehouse fire: ATF to inspect site as all victims ID'd

OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU & AP) —The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Thursday it will send a forensics mapping team to the Ghost Ship warehouse site, a move that will allow the ATF agents to diagram the warehouse and help determine the origin and cause of the fire.

News of the ATF effort came on the same day that Oakland and Alameda County officials said they had identified all 36 victims of the devastating fire that tore through the warehouse in Oakland's Fruitvale District one week ago.

AFT agents told KTVU that they will provide an update on their investigation at the scene of the fire.

The Alameda coroner's bureau released the names of two more of the 36 victims. On Thursday they identified Jennifer Mendiola also known as Alana Kane, 35, of Oakland; and Joseph Matlock, also known as Joey Casio, 36, of Oakland. 

Scroll to the bottom of this story to see the current list of victims. 

Meanwhile federal officials investigating the fire plan to bring in engineers to examine the building's electrical system, as they try to pinpoint the cause of a blaze that has cast a spotlight on similar artists' colonies around the country that offer cheap housing but unsafe living conditions.

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) emailed KTVU on Thursday and said they would be sending a "Forensic Mapping Team" to the site on Friday. The team will create a diagram of the warehouse in order to determine the cause and origin of the fire. 

The bureau will also hold a news conference to give an update on the fire from the scene, but the time of that update has not yet been determined. 

Federal investigators said Wednesday the fire started on the ground and quickly raged, with smoke billowing into the second level and trapping victims whose only escape route was through the flames.

"The occupants were consumed by smoke before they could get out of the building," said Jill Snyder, special agent in charge of the San Francisco office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

She also confirmed there were no sprinklers or fire alarm system in the building.

Officials previously said body recovery efforts at the site had ended.

Snyder reiterated that investigators were examining a refrigerator and other possibilities as a potential source of the fire but had not reached any conclusions. She said the electrical system would be examined. Investigators have not found evidence of arson, but she said they have also not ruled it out.

Snyder indicated it would be at least several weeks before the investigation was completed.

Officials hope to create a virtual, 3D reconstruction of the building for criminal and civil investigations and to provide answers to family members about their loved ones' last moments, Alameda County sheriff's Sgt. Ray Kelly said.

"Where was my son or daughter? Where were they standing? How come they didn't get out?" he said. "Families want answers. They need answers."

The fire broke out during a dance party Friday night in the cluttered warehouse.

The structure had been converted to artists' studios and illegal living spaces, and former denizens said it was a death trap of piled wood, furniture, snaking electrical cords and only two exits.

Danielle Boudreaux, a 40-year-old hairdresser who was close with Derick Ion Almena, the founder of the artists' colony, and his partner, Micah Allison, said it was full of extension cords plugged into each other that helped supply power to music equipment, microwaves and hot plates.

There were also RVs inside, she said.

Almena has not responded to emails or calls by The Associated Press to phone numbers associated with him. He has said he didn't attend the event Friday night, and he is sorry.

City and state officials fielded complaints for years about dangerous conditions, drugs, neglected children, trash, thefts and squabbles at the warehouse, raising questions about why it wasn't shut down. The district attorney has warned of possible murder charges as she determines whether there were any crimes linked to the blaze.

City building department chief Darin Ranelletti said code enforcement inspectors have not been inside the building for at least 30 years. He said inspectors only seek entry into buildings when a new construction permit is applied for or when the department receives complaints. Ranelletti says inspectors try to work with owners to gain access, but require a court order when denied entry.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said the city will look to strengthen regulations for smoke alarms and exits and clarify city employees' responsibilities to monitor unsafe structures.

She said the city wants to engage the arts community in the review to ensure any changes don't jeopardize their access to affordable housing and work space.

On Wednesday, an Oakland restaurant owner, Dorothy King, called a news conference to say she was concerned the artists' warehouse next to her business could pose a safety hazard.

Several artists tried to shout her down, accusing her of launching a "witch hunt" that could result in artists' collectives being shut down.

King said that wasn't her intention.

"I'm concerned about my business burning down. I'm concerned about a tragedy that could happen," she said. "The city should come in and help, not shut it down."

In Baltimore, officials shut down an arts building for safety violations and evicted dozens of tenants three days after the fatal fire in Oakland.

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer told the Los Angeles Times (http://lat.ms/2h7NIpN) that he will meet next week with the fire chief and the head of the building and safety department to discuss what he calls an aggressive response to illegal apartment and loft conversions in commercial buildings.

A vigil for the fire victims is scheduled for noon on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley.

List of victim identities released by Oakland, county officials

  • Jason McCarty, 35
  • Wolfgang Renner, 61
  • Billy Dixon, 35, of Oakland
  • Johnny Igaz, 34 of Oakland
  • Amanda Kershaw, 34, of San Francisco
  • Ara Jo, 29, of Oakland
  • Griffin Madden, 23, of Berkeley
  • Vanessa Plotkin, 21, of Lakewood
  • Hanna Ruax, 32, of Finland
  • Nicole Siegrist, 29, of Oakland
  • Alex Vega, 22, from San Bruno
  • Cash Askew, 22
  • Em Bohlka, 33
  • David Cline, 24
  • Micah Danemayer. 28
  • Alex Ghassan, 35
  • Travis Hough, 35
  • Donna Kellogg, 32
  • Edmond Lapine, 34
  • Benjamin Runnels
  • Jennifer Kiyomi Tanouye
  • Chelsea Dolan, 33, of San Francisco
  • Nick Gomez-Hall, 25 of Coronado
  • Michela Gregory, 20, of South San Francisco
  • Sara Hoda, 30, of Walnut Creek
  • Jennifer Morris, 21, of Foster City
  • Feral Pines of Berkeley
  • Draven McGill, 17
  • Brandon Chase Wittenauer of Hayward
  • Joey Casio, 36, of Oakland 
  • Alana Kane, 35, of Oakland 

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