A fire that ripped through an Oakland, California, warehouse during a dance party has left at least nine people dead, though officials said Saturday they are still searching the structure and the death toll could be as high as 40.
The fire started around 11:30 p.m. Friday in a warehouse three miles outside downtown Oakland with about 50 people inside the venue, according to The Washington Post. The artist space was hosting an electronic dance party by musicians Golden Donna when the blaze began.
The bodies of nine people had been recovered by Saturday night, and more than two dozen were unaccounted for, Sgt. Ray Kelly, spokesman for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, said. Responders were able to observe additional bodies, but were not yet able to recover them yet, Kelly said.
Authorities said on Saturday they will need a minimum of 48 hours to start clearing the building. Shifting walls and debris have made the process slow going.
“We had to stop operations because the building is so unsafe. It’s very, very hard,” Kelly said.
Authorities are “prepared to deal with up to 30 to 40 deceased people,” he said.
More than 70 firefighters rushed to the scene, Oakland Fire Chief Teresa Deloach-Reed told the Post.
“This is pretty tragic for us,” Deloach-Reed told the publication. “It is hitting this community pretty hard. I don’t even want to talk about how the families and friends are feeling. We have a community that’s hurting.”
Bob Mule told KTVU-TV that he tried saving a friend who had an injured ankle but wasn’t able to.
“It was too hot, too much smoke,” Mule told the station. “I had to get out of there. I literally felt my skin peeling and my lungs being suffocated by smoke. I couldn’t get the fire extinguisher to work.”
Spokesman Kelly said many of those inside the building were young.
Officials on social media have shared their condolences, including California Gov. Jerry Brown.
Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf thanked first responders at a press conference Saturday afternoon.
“I spent my morning...focusing on the families of the loved ones that are waiting to hear info and waiting for us to address this very complicated and devastating scene,” she said.
The warehouse was not equipped with sprinklers and the fire caused the building’s roof to collapse. Multiple artist studios in the space were also cluttered with furniture, statues and other large objects, according to The Associated Press. The second floor had only one exit ― a makeshift stairwell, officials said.
Last month, city officials cited the owner of the warehouse after a neighbor filed a complaint about trash piling up around the building, the East Bay Times reported.
“Also, a lot of items are left on the sidewalk near the property,” the complaint said. “Some of trash was hazardous. This property is a storage but the owner turned it to become trash recycle site.”
The following day, officials launched an investigation into an illegal interior structure, documents obtained by the East Bay Times shows.
The cause of the fire is still unknown. An event page on Facebook showed 176 people planned to attend the party. That page is now being used for family members and friends trying to contact loved ones.
The Oakland A’s and Raiders said they would match donations for those affected by the tragedy up to $30,000. The Golden State Warriors announced a donation of $50,000 and held a moment of silence before their Saturday night game. Donations can also be made to YouCaring, which was nearing a goal of $150,000 by Sunday morning.
Officials have released a document in progress intended to identify missing people.