Search of Oakland's burned Ghost Ship warehouse ends: 36 people died

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You know every one of those inconvenient rules in the fire code is there for a reason. Usually the reason is “because somebody died.” They represent lessons learned at a horrible cost. At this point, those rules don’t change very much because we already KNOW what it takes to prevent most deaths in fires. But those rules are inconvenient, or ugly, or expensive. So usually when people die in fires it Is because people IGNORED the life-saving lessons of previous fires.


Or couldn’t afford to bring it up to code.


I work at a hackerspace in Tucson, in a hundred-year-old warehouse with wood floors and roof. The board and management of the hackerspace know the fire marshal very well, and they spend a lot of time and money to make sure the building meets code.

I infer from this disaster that Oakland’s fire code enforcement division is not to up to the task set before them.


That much is guaranteed for any artist community, if only we could provide some grants for reinforcement of safety equipment for these nonprofits.

Even local businesses in Seattle have issues affording the $50,000 that it might cost to add fire safety sprinklers to old buildings.


This is so sad. I’ve known many people in the arts community who lived and worked in similar circumstances. The story is almost always the same: it’s not that they had no interest in fire safety, it’s that they had no hope of affording a fully above-board live/work situation in which to pursue their art. So you get people living in studio spaces that were never zoned for residential use and landlords who are likely to kick tenants out if they make too big of a stink about installing sprinkler systems and fire escapes.


Lack of safe & legal affordable housing and work spaces is a serious issue that needs to be addressed. But the tragedy in Oakland was greatly magnified by the fact that the warehouse was being used not just as an unzoned residence for poor artists, but also to host an illegal, unpermitted concert that was being hosted by a for-profit record label. There are multiple people that need to be held legally responsible for this, not just as retribution but to strongly discourage similarly dangerous concert events in the future.


As of 2:40 PM on 12/07 the homepage of the converted/tarted-up warehouse was still online. Lots of full-page jpgs of the interior, in its before-the-fire state.

OMG it makes my skin crawl. It makes me feel a panic attack coming on. All my life I have had a recurring nightmare in which I am lost in just exactly that kind of a space, built of wood and jammed to the gills with baroque, confusing, flammable STUFF and not a trace of a This-Way-To-The-Great-Egress sign to follow or a fire alarm to pull. All I can think of in those dreams is Ghod, how do I get out of here before I start smelling the smoke?

If I were dropped into such a space IRL the first and only thing I would do is search for something robust enough to beat a hole in the concrete block wall and jump.


True, but remember that Halloween party we helped organize at The Brewery Arts Colony 14 or 15 years ago? In retrospect there’s probably no way the fire code would have permitted that many people in that space. We were just lucky nothing bad happened.


I immediately thought of the Station nightclub fire in Rhode Island that killed 100 people. Ever since seeing the video below I’ve made it a point to be near the fire exit at every concert.


Holy cow, that is a lot of wood!


It’s not. But if the Oakland FD shut down the Ghost Ship and evicted everyone inside, you can bet the inhabitants would be screaming about bureaucracy and gentrification. So there’s really no way anyone can win.


Very true. But at least that property had been legally converted and zoned as a residence at the time of our party, so we weren’t relying on illegal, rickety stairways made from pallets, etc. And, importantly, we didn’t host it as a big for-profit event. The motivation counts for something, I think, when determining if punishment is justified. When you invite large numbers of strangers onto your property for money, in my mind you’re assuming more legal and ethical responsibility than when you just have a few friends over.

ETA: as the sketchy landlord guy wasn’t even on property at the time, choosing to spend the night at a hotel instead of attending the party, that’s additional evidence in my mind that he probably viewed this party purely as a transactional kind of deal. And It seems doubtful that he could credibly claim ignorance to the dangers on his property, as he the city had received repeated complaints about the property for years. But I do get the “there but for the grace of god go I” sentiment. We’ve all done stupid stuff that could have led to tragedy if something unlucky happened.


I can hardly think of a worse way to die. I’m in the East Bay and while I don’t know anyone who died or was there, I have friends who had attended these sorts of events and these sorts of places all over Oakland. Frightening.

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There is not a single lighted EXIT sign nor fire extinguishing gizmo in sight in any of these photos. Definitely negligence on the part of whoever collected rent for the space. It’s as if they didn’t care who died in there.

ETA: Whoever outfitted it with all that stuff could have spent 10% of their decorating budget on safety equipment, and it would have been fine.


Most of that stuff was probably salvage. I doubt they spent thousands of dollars on old mannequin parts.

They definitely should have installed some smoke detectors, but it’s unlikely they had the means or budget to install proper fire escapes or a sprinkler system. That should have been the landlord’s responsibility.


It is the responsibility of everyone who invites others into their home, to not be inviting them into a death trap. Salvage or not, if they couldn’t ensure the safety of their guests, they shouldn’t have been bringing all that flammable material into the building in the first place.


The game of narrowing down the blame to a few individuals so we can sleep at night is not helpful.

It’s easy to blame the inspectors for being backlogged, Ion for not having a safety mission, owners for not keeping better tabs. And you would be partially right. All the residents would hide bedding and hang out at the Wendy’s next door when the owner visited, so they knew this was not legit. They decided they were okay with that.

This was a collective, and everyone who chose to be there (and some like inspectors who choose not to be there) had some responsibility.

If anything, I’d like to see this result in more agency and choices for warehouse dwellers via education, legal options, daylight, and empowerment. Driving people further underground by getting tougher on code enforcement is not the answer. It turns people towards temporary, unsafe solutions like the jumble of extension cords in the appliance area where the fire started.


Housing is way beyond “crisis” in the Bay Area When folks have to cohabitate in substandard/unsafe dwellings [such as this] something is very wrong.


Or just couldn’t be bothered to take normal, cheap safety measures like insuring clear, unobstructed pathways to clearly marked exits, and keeping fire extinguishers handy.

The choice isn’t binary. It isn’t “to code” or “nothing”. There are many steps short of expensive fire sprinklers that would have reduced the loss of life in this situation.