OAKLAND (CBS SF) – A criminal investigation into the fatal Oakland warehouse fire is underway and could lead to charges of murder or manslaughter in connection with the 36 lives lost in the fire, according to the district attorney.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley spoke at a Monday afternoon press briefing at the site of the fire at the Oakland Ghost Ship warehouse space where at least 36 people have died and another 24 or more were still missing.
O’Malley said that the Alameda County Fire Investigative team was on the scene by Saturday morning to assess the fire.
“By afternoon, I activated the District Attorney criminal investigative team, which includes our investigators as well an experienced Deputy District Attorney who works in the real estate division of our office,” said O’Malley. “He is also an expert in land and property use and he will be very effective in his role of leading this investigation with not only my office, but with multiple law enforcement agencies, most particularly the ATF.”
Investigators worked closely with both the Oakland Fire Department and the Alameda County Sheriff’s office to preserve evidence at the potential crime scene, said O’Malley.
Continuing Coverage: Deadly Oakland Warehouse Fire
While O’Malley said that it was far too early in the investigation to speculate who might be liable if criminal charges were brought in the case, she did note that charges of homicide or manslaughter were among the possible charges that a responsible party might face.
“The range of charges could be murder all the way to involuntary manslaughter,” said O’Malley. “And until we know what the evidence shows us, there may be other charges if the evidence presents that.”
Authorities have set up a hotline for anyone with information relevant to the deadly warehouse fire investigation to call, O’Malley said. That number is 877-288-2882
DA O’Malley says several people have been interviewed who are connected to the building.
Workers were able to resume their recovery efforts Monday morning inside the burned out remains of a two-story warehouse where a weekend fire killed at least 36 people with another 24 or more still missing.
Meanwhile, Alameda County Sheriff/Coroner Greg Ahern said 33 of the 36 victims had been identified to some level.
“Right now there are 36 victims and we have tentatively identified 33,” he told reporters. “Three have not been identified either due to extreme burn or one had no ID and doesn’t match any of the people on the listed missing persons. The list that we have accumulated. So 33 others have been at some level identified.”
The last three bodies were removed from the scene Monday morning, Ahern said. Individuals from Finland, Korea and Guatemala have been tentatively identified among those recovered.
22 autopsies had been completed as of Monday afternoon.
The search was halted for about 11 hours starting at about 10 p.m. Sunday night because the structure had been unstable and unsafe for search crews.
“For us as firefighters, to work under a wobbly, potentially collapsing exterior wall is extremely dangerous,” Oakland Fire Department Battalion Chief Melinda Drayton said at a press conference Monday morning. “We will not put our firefighters in danger at this point, and we will not put Alameda County Sheriff in that precarious situation with us.”
Drayton said 70 percent of the building had been searched with more victims likely.
She also said the likely origin point of the fire had been located in the rear of the building and the search of that area was being taken over by the ATF, which was assembling a team.
Drayton said firefighters plan to be methodical once the search resumes, despite wet weather in the forecast for later this week. “We will not be going faster to get ahead of the rain. So we’re going to be just as comprehensive, just as methodical and just as analytical so we can be successful in a full recovery in the next few days,” she said.
Oakland police spokesperson Johnna Watson said that work had resumed at around 9 a.m. Monday during a late morning press briefing.
Watson also said that PG&E would be holding a planned power outage in the area of the warehouse fire. The outage is to allow crews to bring in a large crane to sift through the wreckage.
The power is being turned off because the crane could interfere with power lines in the area, Watson said.
The outage commenced at 12 p.m. and was expected to last approximately 12 hours. Watson said that the outage was expected to impact between 50 and 500 customers in the area.
Watson also confirmed that the number of bodies recovered from the rubble of the warehouse had not changed in the three hours since work had resumed Monday morning.
Continuing Coverage: Deadly Oakland Warehouse Fire
Seven families have learned the tragic fate of their loved ones. The confirmed victims were listed as Sarah Hoda, of Walnut Creek, Cash Askew, 22, David Clines, 35, Travis Hough, 35, and Donna Kellogg, 32, all of Oakland; Nick Gomez-Hall, 25, of Coronado, and Brandon Chase Wittenauer, 32, of Hayward.
A 17-year-old victim has been identified as Draven McGill, who was a junior at the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts. McGill is the son of an Alameda County Sheriff’s Deputy.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama issued a statement on Monday expressing condolences to the victims and their families.
“While we still don’t know the full toll of this disaster, we do know that an American community has been devastated, and many people – including young men and women with their whole futures ahead of them – have tragically lost their lives,” Mr. Obama said.
The president also thanked first responders who have “who have been working tirelessly for days” recovering victims and treating the wounded.
The Oakland Fruitvale District warehouse had been converted into a maze of small work spaces for local artists. So when firefighters arrived at the scene Friday night, they were forced take a defensive position as flames quickly consumed the structure.
Inside were residents and partygoers attending a music event. City officials said the site was not licensed for either living spaces or as a concert venue.
The warehouse was under investigation from city building officials at the time of the fire. Neighbors had complained of piles of debris outside the building and also that people were living inside the structure that housed an artist cooperative.