OAKLAND (CBS SF) – An Oakland fire battalion chief said Wednesday that she knew immediately after she arrived at the Ghost Ship warehouse after 11 p.m. on Dec. 2, 2016, that the fire that was burning there was a major event.
Testifying in the trial of Ghost Ship warehouse master tenant Derick Almena, 49, and Ghost Ship creative director Max Harris, 29, Heather Mozdean, whose crew was the first to arrive at the scene, said, “There was enough smoke and volume and velocity to know that I had a significant fire.”
Mozdean explained, “The greater the velocity, the angrier and bigger the fire is.”
She said that when her crew arrived at the warehouse only about a minute after the fire was reported, “I could see it (dark gray smoke) pushing out of the windows.”
Almena and Harris face 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter for the fire during a music party at the warehouse at 1309 31st Ave., one count for each of the 36 people who were killed in the blaze.
Mozdean, who was a captain at the time, was based at a fire station at 1225 Derby Ave., which is only about a block away from the warehouse.
Mozdean said she and her crew were sleeping at the time the fire was reported, but had their fire clothes nearby and were able to get their fire engine out the door in about 30 seconds and got to the fire while a dispatcher was still notifying other crews about the blaze.
About a dozen family members of the victims who were in court on Wednesday morning quietly sobbed when Alameda County prosecutors played a 15-minute video of helmet camera footage of the blaze taken by firefighter paramedic Brian Hicks, who was on Mozdean’s four-person crew.
The footage briefly showed smoke and flames at the warehouse but was black and eerily silent much of the time as Hicks made his way through the building and voices can be heard in the distance.
The beginning of the footage shows people yelling at crew members when they arrive at the warehouse and one of the firefighters asked, “Guys—is anybody in there?”
Mozdean will continue her testimony on Wednesday afternoon.
Prosecutors allege that Almena and Harris are criminally liable for the fire because there was no time and no way for the people at the party to escape since the warehouse didn’t have important safeguards, such as fire extinguishers, smoke alarms and exit signs.
Prosecutors also say Almena and Harris violated the terms of the warehouse’s lease by turning it into a living space where up to 25 people stayed and hosting underground music parties there.
But defense attorneys for Almena and Harris allege that the fire was an act of arson that Harris and Almena couldn’t have prevented.
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