OAKLAND (KPIX 5) — The Oakland Fire Department said they never visited the Ghost Ship warehouse before the fire that killed 36 people, but people who attended a concert there in 2014 say firefighters came inside the warehouse.
Investigators told us Tuesday that the fire department never stepped foot inside the warehouse because they thought it was vacant.
But 36 people were killed in the fire after they became trapped on the second floor.
And the cause is still a mystery.
• Continuing Coverage: Deadly Oakland Warehouse Fire
Walker Johnson, of Oakland, said, “A friend of mine was a promoter for the show and a friend of mine’s band was playing so my friends were there and I went to check it out.”
In September of 2014, Johnson didn’t just go to the Ghost Ship – he became part of the show. He added some cowbell for his friend’s band. But at some point during the night he says there were some unexpected visitors.
“I’m not exactly sure when but sometime in the middle of the show, I think pretty early on, firefighters were inside the building, walking around at least downstairs I believe they’re upstairs, but I forget,” Johnson said.
He says those firefighters were friendly, didn’t appear alarmed by anything, and seemed to just be checking things out. Something he was grateful for, given the nature of the space.
“I really appreciated the firefighters being there,” Johnson said.
But on Tuesday, officials said there are no records of the fire department ever inspecting that warehouse, or stepping foot inside.
Oakland fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed said, “We pulled our records from CAD – if there was any dispatches or calls for service for that facility. Right now I can say that we do not have records stating that our firefighters had made entry or were aware of what was going on at 1315 31st Avenue.”
Johnson said, “I’m not sure of what led up to it but there were multiple firemen there and I expect there would be some sort of record of that.”
Off-camera we spoke with the man who promoted that event in 2014. He corroborates the story, saying that firefighters were inside the building. He also says they spoke with Derek Ion Almena, the man who was renting this building, both to residence and music promoters. But so far, there is no explanation as to why that visit is not listed among city records.
“It might just be some sort of communication issue,” Johnson said.
And this wouldn’t be the first such communication issue.
We know building inspectors were responding to complaints about the warehouse right around the time of that event in 2014. And we have video of police poking around inside the building in October of this year, but none of that was enough to produce any significant action by the city, something the mayor identified as a problem just days after the fire.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf has said, “We are developing ways to immediately clarify the responsibility of city employees to properly report any observations of dangerous living conditions or illegal events, along with a clear process for doing so.”
Chief Reed said, “Right now we do not have any records stating our firefighters made entry or were aware of what was going on.”
We reached out to the Oakland Fire Department for comment, but have not heard back.