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A memorial near the live/work space known as the Ghost Ship, where authorities said Monday morning that the death toll has risen to 36 with more areas of the structure needing to be searched. Photo by Brian Krans

Oakland Ghost Ship fire casualties rise to 36, 11 people identified

on December 5, 2016

Officials raised the death toll in the Ghost Ship fire to 36 Monday morning, while warning that more victims are expected to be found as the grim search continues.

During a 6 a.m. press conference, Alameda County deputy sheriff Tya Modeste said 11 victims had been positively identified so far, and their families notified. About 70 percent of the building had been searched as of last night, she added.

The block around the Oakland warehouse, home to two dozen artists and the scene of an electronic music event on Friday before the fire broke out, was cordoned off Monday, ringed with candle-lit memorial altars.

Seven names have been released: Cash Askew, 22; David Cline, 23; Nick Gomez-Hall, 25; Sara Hoda, 30; Travis Hough, 35; Donna Kellogg, 32; and Brandon Chase Wittenauer, 32. Police did not release the name of one other victim, a minor aged 17. Officials are waiting to release the names of an additional three victims until notification of family members.

The warehouse fire, already ranked among the most deadly structure fires in the nation and the most deadly fire in Oakland history, has ravaged the East Bay arts community and inspired an outpouring of grief. It also has prompted questions about building safety conditions.

Authorities could not say Monday what caused the blaze. Firefighters confronted an unsafe working situation as they combed the wreckage and removed debris.

Melinda Drayton, an Oakland battalion fire chief, said investigators found some parts of the warehouse’s steel infrastructure “where steel is twisted and wrapped,” which signifies an “extremely hot fire.” Drayton said officials had “no way of telling the cause.”

Although the location with twisted steel is likely where the fire started, fire officials said they don’t yet know if it started on the first or second floor. “I don’t even want to speculate,” said Drayton.

Representatives of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were at the scene but have yet “to determine which direction this investigation is going to go,” Drayton said.

Oakland police public information officer Johnna Watson said the Oakland police are following up on investigations into a history of building code violations and which follow-up actions were taken by the police department. Watson said that the OPD was one of the first departments to begin using body-work cameras by officers, so if someone visited the building in the past, “we may have captured that on our own body-worn footage.”

Sunday night, firefighters found a slight lean in a protective wall along the edge of the roof. That  signifies a weakness in the structure, officials said, deeming the scene unsafe for further work around 10 p.m. Sunday.

There was a full work stoppage by 12:18 a.m. “We will not put our fire fighters in danger,” said Drayton.

Police officers, fire fighters and ATF investigators are expected to have developed a “game plan” by 8 a.m. Monday morning. Officials said they hope to be back in the building continuing their work around noon to 2 p.m.

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