The scene of a late-night dance party in Oakland that went up in flames late Friday was already under investigation for structural deficiencies before the fire claimed the lives of at least nine people overnight, according to records obtained by the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit.
The Oakland Planning and Building Department launched an investigation into the habitability of the warehouse less than a month ago, citing an “illegal interior building structure.”
Following Friday’s fire, Oakland launched a new investigation into the warehouse, again citing a “housing habitability complaint.”
Property records show the warehouse is owned by a trust created by Chor N Ng. Records show Ng, either individually or through the trust, also owns more than a dozen other buildings in Oakland, San Francisco and Santa Clara.
A family member speaking on behalf of the owner told the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit they were "trying to figure out what happened just like everyone else."
New city records, obtained by the Investigative Unit, cite accounts from fire fighters who said “some victims may have been trapped in Friday’s fire since they couldn’t escape down a makeshift, one-way stairwell leading to the second floor that was built out of wooden pallets.”
In defense of the owner, the family member said the stairway is not made of wood pallets, is built to code and is a full stairway in the back of the building inside.
Records also show the warehouse and surrounding area have been the subject of nearly 10 blight complaints over the past decade.
A website for the warehouse, which refers to the venue as the ‘Oakland Ghost Ship,’ posts several dozen photos of the interior. The structure, which also featured a work space for artists, appears to be filled with large pieces of wooden furniture and vintage decorations.
“I was just able to get in about 10 feet,” said Oakland Fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed. “I couldn’t really get past that point. The roof has collapsed so there is a lot of timber and heavy wood and stuff that’s in there.”
Reed, speaking to reporters early Saturday morning, described the fire as the worst Oakland has seen at least since the Oakland Hills fire 25 years ago that claimed 25 lives.
In examining the scene of this latest fire, Reed said she noticed two fire extinguishers inside the warehouse, but doesn’t believe the facility was equipped with working smoke detectors since victims did not remember hearing any alarms during the fire.
“There’s still a lot of the building that needs to be searched,” Reed said. “I pray our fatality count doesn’t go up, but I believe there is a potential for it to.”