At least nine people are dead and as many as two-dozen others also may have perished in a massive fire that broke out late Friday in an Oakland warehouse and artists collective in what Mayor Libby Schaaf on Saturday called a “terrible tragedy.”
Alameda County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Ray Kelly said Saturday that it could take at least 48 hours to tally the number of casualties because of the continuing danger posed to firefighters by the unstable and charred remains of the structure in the city’s Fruitvale district.
The fire, the worst in Oakland in years, broke out during an electronic music party at the warehouse, which had illegally been turned into artists studios and living spaces.
At a press conference Saturday night, Kelly said nine bodies recovered from the rubble had been sent to the coroner’s office for identification, and that authorities had been able to locate several dozen missing people. He said recovery efforts were to continue overnight because of darkness and the unstable infrastructure of the charred building.
“We have to move slow and judiciously,” Kelly said. “We know there are bodies in there that we cannot get to. … We don’t know how many people were inside when this happened.”
A few hours earlier, Kelly said firefighters had removed four of the nine bodies officials could see when they went into the entrance of the building. These were being fingerprinted, and Oakland officials were working quickly to identify them for the anxious families who are awaiting word of their loved ones.
The Oakland Fire Department brought in tractors, bulldozers, trucks and a crane Saturday night to get into the ruined building in a search for the bodies of the dead.
“We’re going to have to cut a hole through the building. It’s blocked at the entrance so we have to gain access on the other side,” Kelly said.
“It’s very twisted debris in there. There are wires and beams and wood. It’s all fallen in on itself. We’re thinking about bringing in cadaver dogs and robots to get into all the crevices,” he said.
“This is a devastating scene,” the mayor said at a briefing Saturday afternoon at a makeshift podium within sight of the building, adding that the investigation and recovery effort would be a “complex” undertaking.
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SOURCE: USA Today, Elizabeth Weise and Aamer Madhani