Complaints filed weeks before deadly Oakland warehouse fire

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OAKLAND, California (CNN) — The city of Oakland received repeated complaints over several years about the “Ghost Ship” warehouse, which was gutted last week by a fire that killed at least 36 people.

Many of the 10 complaints were directed at the lot, pointing to a “ton of garbage piling up on the property” as well as the “illegal interior building structure” at the warehouse, according to city records released Tuesday.

*Click to read about the Chagrin Falls native killed in the fire

The site had been damaged in a fire in 1988, but additional information on that incident was not immediately available.

The most recent complaints had been filed three weeks before Friday’s fire.

The building’s owner, Chor N. Ng received a citation in November for hazardous trash and debris surrounding the building. Officials had also received complaints of illegal construction on the property.

“Some of the trash was hazardous,” read a complaint dated November 13. “The yard became a trash collection site and the main building was remodel for residential.”

The blaze broke out during an electronic dance party, killing dozens who could not escape from the dilapidated two-story warehouse — known locally as the Ghost Ship.

The site, along with its adjacent lot, had become cluttered with old cars, oil containers, pests, and trash, according to complaints over the years.

More records about the warehouse and the lot are being collected by various city departments and will be released, according to a statement from Oakland authorities.

*Click to read more from sister station KTLA

How fire started still unknown

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, said Oakland Fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed at a press conference Tuesday. Search teams were still searching parts of the warehouse.

There is no evidence the fire was deliberately set, said Jill Snyder, special agent in charge with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ San Francisco field division.

But there was one bit of good news Tuesday: After searching 90% of the warehouse, firefighters don’t expect the death toll to rise.

Deputy Chief Mark Hoffmann told reporters the department cannot be certain there are no more remains, but he is optimistic there are no more in the remaining areas to be searched.

“Hopefully that’s the 10% where there are no victims,” he said.

Searchers were still dealing with structural issues, but debris removal should be done by midnight Pacific Time, officials said.

‘Ghost Ship’ manager: ‘I’m incredibly sorry’

Derick Almena, the building’s leaseholder, has come under widespread scrutiny after former tenants and visitors reported unsafe conditions, such as fires sparked by faulty electrical cords.

Almena has not responded to CNN’s request for comment. But in a Tuesday interview with NBC’s “Today” show, Almena apologized to the victims’ families and vehemently defended himself, saying he would have never intentionally endangered any of his tenants.

“I’m only here to say one thing: That I am incredibly sorry,” he told “Today.”

“Everything I did was to make this a stronger, more beautiful community.”

Almena denounced claims that he spent more money on parties at the warehouse than on repairs.

“I don’t want to talk about me. I don’t want to talk about profiting. This is profit? The loss of mass life?” he said.

“I’m a father. I laid my three children down there every night.”

It’s not clear whether 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 said.

A communal space

The Ghost Ship was a coveted haven in the Bay Area’s gentrifying landscape of skyrocketing rents and disappearing artist spaces. Residents estimate 20 to 25 artists lived there.

Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, who is from Oakland, wrote that he had many years ago “lived in warehouses and communal spaces like Ghost ship ..”

“.. those were some of the best and most fulfilling times in my life. living with other weirdos, artists, activists, and musicians.. spaces like this allow the strange ones to thrive and be the people that normal society rejects.

“we inspired each other, laughed together, and created new friends and family we didn’t know existed. The city of oakland provided that for me and my closest friends,” he posted on Instagram with a photo from Monday night’s vigil.

The warehouse was to be used only as a commercial space, and had not received any residential or public assembly permits. City officials didn’t sign off on a special permit for the Friday event, said Darin Ranelletti, Oakland’s interim director of planning and building,

Firefighters found no evidence of sprinklers in the warehouse.

Oakland officials seek to declare a local emergency in order to get state and federal funding. That request will go before the City Council during a special meeting Thursday.

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