At least twenty-four people were killed when a fire broke out during a party at a converted warehouse in Oakland, California on Friday night. The death toll was initially nine, but as rescue teams continue to search through the fire’s rubble, they found more bodies.
According to authorities the blaze started on around 11:30 p.m. and was still smoldering until Saturday afternoon, Time reported. Currently authorities have identified twenty-four dead—mostly in their 20s—with more people missing. At the time of the fire it was believed that there between 50-100 partygoers—many who were part of Oakland’s artist community—in the “Ghost Ship” warehouse.
“It appears that either you got out or you got trapped inside,” said Alameda County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Ray Kelly.
Kelly also admitted that only 20 percent of the building had been searched since Friday night, so a final death toll will be released in a few days, USA Today wrote.
“This is very hard work and its very slow and it definitely has taken a toll on the first responders,” Kelly said. “We have people around the clock and we will be here for days and days to come.“
He added: “That number will go up. Firefighters are tired, exhausted. This is very emotional.“
Oakland Battalion Fire Chief Melinda Drayton said at the press conference that firefighters had worked overnight to remove debris from the warehouse “literally bucket by bucket,” says NBC News.
“Within 12 hours we made it through one fifth of the building,” she said. “This will be a long and arduous process but we want to make sure we are respecting the victims, their families and our firefighters’ safety to work slowly and carefully through the building.”
It’s unknown what started the fire. While some sources have said that an electrical cord in the basement was the blaze’s catalyst, the Oakland Fire Department is investigating for arson and all other scenarios, the Associated Press noted.
Sources say that the set up of the warehouse helped the fire take over the structure. Apparently there was no sprinkler system and the floors were split into several artist studios that were “cluttered with furniture, mannequins and other objects—a setup that lacked a clear escape route,” Time wrote. Also, the building was made up of mostly wood.
City officials also confirmed that the Oakland Planning and Building Department launched an investigation in November into complaints about the safety of the structure. Records obtained by NBC Bay Area showed that there been nearly 10 complaints over the past 10 years about the warehouse and its surrounding areas.
With the trending hashtag #OaklandFire people took to Twitter to express their sadness of this tragedy:
Others also expressed their anger with the and how media outlets have covered this tragedy, demonizing the young people involved:
In one interview, a local man spoke with reporter Jackie Ward about the positive aspects of the warehouse and the artist community in the area:
This is a developing story and we will provide updates at they become available.