A riot of emotions flickered across Daniel Vega's face as he waited outside a hospital on Saturday for news about his baby brother.
Alexander Vega and his girlfriend, Michela Angelina Gregory, were at a Friday electronic music festival at the "Ghost Ship" warehouse in Oakland. But the night of revelry turned deadly when a three-alarm fire scorched the building, killing at least nine people and leaving dozens others unaccounted for.
Daniel Vega was at work and decided to hop on Facebook during his break Saturday morning. That's when he stumbled across an NBC article about a “massive fire” at an Oakland warehouse party.
“Immediately, my heart sank because I know my little brother and his girlfriend like to go to raves in Oakland and San Francisco,” Vega said. “And so I immediately called him and it went straight to voicemail, which is very odd because normally his phone is charged in some capacity.”
Vega tried calling his 22-year-old brother a second time. Again, no reply.
So he tried their mother and asked, “Mom, where’s my little brother?” She replied that her youngest son was neither at home nor answering his phone. So the Vega men’s mother began “driving around to his friends’ houses looking for him.”
Alexander Vega didn’t turn up, so Daniel Vega began searching too.
Standing with his wife and cousins outside Highland Hospital a while later, Vega said that police officers and people with the Red Cross were staying tight-lipped.
“I’m just infuriated that I can’t go over there,” he said. “Like, you know, I have my work boots on. Man, I’m ready to roll.”
When asked if he wanted to sift through debris at what police have described as an unstable building, Daniel Vega didn’t hesitate. “Hell yeah, I do,” he responded.
Reflecting on their childhood, Daniel Vega said he was 14 years old when Alexander Vega was born. So as a high schooler, he babysat his infant brother.
As they grew older, both men bonded over a shared interest in cars and music.
Starting to say that his brother was in the prime of his life, Daniel Vega teared up.
“I don’t even want to say ‘was,’ but you know what I mean,” he choked out. “He is in the prime of his life. … He’s got plenty of life left ahead of him.”
Vega described his brother as a “tough guy,” but admitted that it’s “major damage” when a roof’s building lands on its second floor, which then plunges to the first floor.
“That doesn’t sound like something you could just jump out of,” he said.
Aware that it’s not possible to control fires, Vega tried not to speculate. But some questions felt pressing.
“If there was any kind of things wrong with that building, like maybe it was an old dilapidated building or something like that, why would somebody have a rave there?” Vega wondered. “And if the rave was there, and it was an underground rave, why did the cops let it happen? … Why didn’t the cops break it up?”
Fire officials have struggled to shore up the warehouse on the 1300 block of 31st Avenue. So far, they have recovered four bodies, but “expect the death toll” to increase. The county coroner is prepared for up to 40 deaths, said Alameda County sheriff’s officials, who estimate that it could take up to two days before all the victims are identified.
In the meantime, Vega remains rooted in fear and concern about his brother.
“If my brother is there I want to find him,” he said. "I need closure. Obviously I want to hold on to a little bit of hope, but I just don’t know.”