Oakland Warehouse Fire Update
As the investigation of the “Ghost Ship” warehouse fire continues, the lead investigators have ruled arson as the cause of the conflagration that killed 36 people on the night of December 2nd – 3rd of this year.
At this time attention is focused on tangle of electrical cords, including what appears to have been a hole deliberately punched through a wall to tap into a neighboring business’ electrical wiring in order to steal electric power for the tenants of the Ghost Ship, as the probable cause of the fire. Officially, the cause of the fire is still “under investigation.”
At Monday’s news conference, Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms Agent Jill Snyder said that "At this time, there is no final determination… "
Regardless of the “official determination” of the cause of the fire, there are a number of indications that the warehouse’s owner, Chor Nar Siu Ng; its “manager” Derick Ion Almena, and the City of Oakland were indeed aware of conditions at the illegally-converted warehouse yet did nothing to intervene.
- Chor Nar Siu Ng
According to the New York Times (December 11, 2016), the owner of the warehouse that had been converted into the Ghost Ship is reported to own “roughly 10” properties in the Oakland area. She also owns the property adjacent to the ill-fated warehouse where a Ng family-owned business has operated for several years. If the reports that a hole had been punched into a wall to divert electrical power to the Ghost Ship are true, it would seem to be impossible that the Ng family would have been unaware of the activities next door.
TheTimes also reports that the city has fined Ms. Ng on numerous occasions for “nuisance or substandard or hazardous or injurious” conditions at the vacant lot to the south of the warehouse and at the building to its north.
Several residents and former residents of the Ghost Ship have said that Ms. Ng or her daughter would occasionally come by the warehouse, but it isn’t known that they ever entered the building itself or observed the illegal alteration of the warehouse into a residential building and the previously mentioned collection of electrical cords and piles of flammable debris.
- Derick Ion Almena
Multiple print and broadcast sources have reported that Almena acted as a sort of “resident manager” who collected “rent” from the tenants of the Ghost Ship and organized parties or concerts that were held on the second floor of the converted warehouse. Whether Ms. Ng or anyone else from that family was aware of his activities has not been reported. It is most unlikely that, given the reports that he collected rent and even charged admission to the party or concert-goers that utilized the Ghost Ship’s upper floor, that the Ng family was unaware of what was going on.
- The City of Oakland
Of all the parties that seem to have been at least partially liable for the Ghost Ship fire, the City of Oakland seems to have been aware that something out of the ordinary was going on in what was supposedly an abandoned warehouse.
The Oakland Fire Department says that the building wasn’t on its inspection lists, even though the city’s building and safety code inspectors had received complaints from neighbors about piles of trash created by the building’s residents. This is the same fire department that the California Environmental Protection Agency relieved of its hazardous materials inspection duties in January 2015 after finding numerous problems with the department’s inspection procedures that reached back several years.
In the letter notifying both the city council and Oakland Fire Chief Teresa DeLoach Reed of its decision, the agency cited missed routine inspections, inadequate or non-existent documentation, and that apparently only 255 of 1,152 required inspections were actually performed in the previous year.
A full reporting of the failures of the City of Oakland leading up to the fire would require its own blog post, which may be a later topic. Tragically, there appears to be enough evidence that there are numerous parties whose negligence in the Ghost Ship fire borders on criminal. Whether these parties will face criminal charges remains to be seen.
Of greater note if the fact that, under California’s Tort Reform Act, there is a six-month window for filing a personal injury/wrongful death claim against the City of Oakland and that the “clock” began running on December 3rd of this year. Anyone who lost a family member in the Ghost Ship fire has until June 3rd, 2017 to begin their claim by contacting a personal injury lawyer who is familiar with both the California statutes regarding claims against a municipality and with the management of wrongful death lawsuits where gross negligence may have been involved.