Fire Marshal Says Ghost Ship Warehouse Had Dangerous Materials

Oakland's former assistant fire marshal testified on Wednesday that the RVs and trailers that were at the Ghost Ship warehouse in Oakland before a fire broke out and killed 36 people in 2016 weren't allowed under the city's building and fire codes.

Asked by Alameda County prosecutor Casey Bates if it was permissible for the warehouse at 1309 31st Ave. to have RVS and trailers used as living spaces, Cesar Avila, who is now an Alameda County Deputy Fire Marshal working for the city of Emeryville, said, "Absolutely not."

Avila said the building code doesn't allow RVs in warehouses because they could have fuel and propane tanks that could make fires burn more intensely.

"There are a lot of fluids that could augment a fire," Avila said.

He added that batteries for RVS "are another potential augmentation" for fires.

Avila's testimony came on the third day of testimony of the trial of Ghost Ship master tenant Derick Almena, 49, and creative director Max Harris, 29, on 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter for the fire during a music party at the warehouse at 1309 31st Ave. late on the night of Dec. 2, 2016, that killed 36 people.

Bates alleged in his opening statement last week that Almena and Harris are criminally liable for the fire because there was no time and no way for the people at the party to escape since the warehouse didn't have important safeguards, such as fire extinguishers, smoke alarms and exit signs.

Bates also said Almena and Harris violated the terms of the warehouse's lease, which Almena signed on Nov. 10, 2013, by turning it into a living space and hosting underground parties there.

But Harris's attorney Curtis Briggs and Almena's lawyer Tony Serra alleged in their opening statements that the fire was an act of arson that Harris and Almena couldn't have prevented.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Trina Thompson certified Avila as an expert witness in the implementation of fire and building codes for the purpose of conducting experiments.

Almena's lawyer Tony Serra objected to having Avila qualified as an expert because he never previously had testified as an expert.

Harris' lawyer Curtis Briggs cross-examined Avila at length about how thick the Oakland fire code is, where his office was located, whether he used a city car to get to building inspections and whether the city's building inspection files are stored on paper or on a computer.

Testimony in the trial, which is expected to last at least several months, will resume on Tuesday afternoon.

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