Oakland warehouse received multiple complaints prior to fire that left 36 dead
The information came from Oakland city records released on Tuesday and goes back as far as 1992, showing a litany of complaints about dangerous conditions and a high level of trash at the warehouse.
The latest complaint was filed November 14, three weeks before the fire, over “illegal interior building structure.” A building inspector went to the warehouse on November 17 but was unable to get inside.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf told reporters the inspector followed procedure and later sent a request to the owner to gain entry, according to AP.
Other complaints were of “trash and debris” on the property, “pallets and construction materials blocking the sidewalk,” and constructing a house or structure without permits. The complaints were filed in 2016 and 2014.
The building’s owner, Chor N. Ng, received a citation in November for hazardous trash and debris surrounding the building. There is evidence that Eva Ng, the owner’s daughter, responded to the complaints and made efforts to fix the problems, clearing the lot and painting the fence.
Eva Ng told the Los Angeles Times the warehouse was leased as studio space for an art collective and was not used as a dwelling.
The warehouse was listed as a commercial space and had not received any residential or public assembly permits.
City officials did not sign off on a special permit for the event on Friday at which the people died, according to Oakland’s interim director of planning and building, Darin Ranelletti.
For seven years there appears to have been a drop off in complaints about the warehouse, then multiple reports in 2005 and 2007 over the empty lot being used a junk yard and parking lot, and liens filed against the building. There was also a report of ‘fire damage’ in 1988.
Oakland authorities said more records about the warehouse and the lot were being collected by various city departments and will be made available.
Investigators are said to be zeroing in on a refrigerator and other electrical appliances as a possible cause of the fire.
BREAKING: Federal official: Refrigerator among possible sources of deadly Oakland warehouse fire.— The Associated Press (@AP) December 6, 2016
Jill Snyder, special agent in charge of the San Francisco office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, told AP investors were looking at “anything electrical” on the first floor of the warehouse near the origin of the blaze.
“We have no indication that this was intentionally set,” she said.
The manager of the warehouse, Derick Ion Almena, who wasn’t there at the time of the fire, has come under widespread scrutiny after former tenants and visitors reported unsafe conditions, such as fires sparked by faulty electrical cords.
Almena told reporters he signed a lease for the building that “was to city standards supposedly.”
“Everything that I did was to make this a stronger and more beautiful community and to bring people together,” Almena told the ‘Today Show’ on NBC.
It is not clear if Almena will face criminal charges. Authorities are trying to determine whether there’s any criminal liability and if so, who is responsible, District Attorney Nancy O’Malley told CNN.