Brief review of the Oakland Warehouse Fire that killed 36

Sadly, the fire that broke out during a dance party in Oakland, California on Friday has now killed at least 36 people.  The building was ablaze from about 11.30pm on Friday night and was not extinguished until 4am, despite firefighters reached the warehouse within three minutes of being called. District attorney Nancy O’Malley initially said the ruins of Ghost Ship – a warehouse turned performance space – were “a potential crime scene” but that “it’s too premature to know where the investigation will lead us”.

Investigations have since revealed that a faulty refrigerator may be the cause.

There were many immediate risk factors within the building, inherent in nightclubs, theatres and other buildings of ‘assembly occupancy’.  The crowded, often dark spaces with combustible interior décor and heat sources like candles, stage lights or pyrotechnics, a warren of artist studios across two floors and their connection by a rickety staircase comprised of wooden pallets, with only two exits.

City records, which the investigators are trawling through, show a history of fire-code violations at the building.  A century ago fires that killed hundreds in theatres and nightclubs were not uncommon in the US.

It was the loss of 146 lives in New York’s Triangle fire of 1911 was one of several watershed moments that prompted changes to the fire code, the first standards for sprinkler installation and the construction of fire escape routes in the early 1900s.  Speaking to the New York Times, James Pauley, president of the National Fire Protection Association said:

“The adoption and implementation of fire codes, having an effective enforcement system that’s been put in place at the city, county or state level — those have been the key elements that have made the difference we have seen. When a deadly fire happens it is usually because something isn’t followed or something goes wrong or we learn something new.”


Victims of the Oakland fire so far appear to be in their 20s and 30s and include a teacher, musicians, the son of a deputy sheriff and university students.

Deputy fire chief Darren White said the search, which was paused amid fears the ruins were structurally unsound, had now covered about 70% of the warehouse and they were homing in on the origin of the blaze.

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