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Residents: No alarms or sprinklers worked during Oakland fire that killed 3

OAKLAND, Calif. -- A four-alarm fire swept through an Oakland residential building early Monday, killing at least three residents including one who was not able to escape the deadly blaze, CBS San Francisco reports.

The Alameda County Coroner’s Office identified one of the deceased victims as 64-year-old Edwarn Anderson. He was one of two victims found dead on the building’s second floor, according to Oakland Fire Battalion Chief Erik Logan.

One resident remains missing.

Logan says two adults and two children who were taken to a hospital with non-life threatening injuries will be released later in the day.

Firefighters battle an early morning apartment fire Mon., March 27, 2017, in Oakland, Calif. AP

Dazed Oakland residents who escaped report being wakened by neighbors’ screams and the popping of windows grown too hot from the heat. Residents said they didn’t see or feel any sprinklers as they ran out, and no one reported hearing fire alarms in the three-story building that housed people recovering from addiction, prison and life on the streets.

“There were no sprinklers or fire extinguishers,” said Curtis Robinson, 52, who had to leave his wheelchair behind in his first floor room in the scramble to escape.

“Fire is a great motivator,” he said.

Officials said they received calls reporting the fire around 6 a.m. and crews were quickly on the scene. The fire department tweeted that multiple rescues were being made, and at one point said crews were being withdrawn from the building because the roof and floors were compromised.

Oakland Fire Battalion Chief Erik Logan said later that rescuers spotted what looked like a body on the third floor, but crews had to retreat before they could confirm. Fire officials later confirmed a body had been found in a second floor apartment, CBS San Francisco reported.

Oakland became the site of the deadliest structure fire in the U.S. in more than a decade when three dozen partygoers perished at a warehouse fire in December. The building that burned Monday is about 5 miles from the warehouse, nicknamed the Ghost Ship.

Records show that the building that burned Monday has been the target of building department investigations and citations since 2010, when the city allowed the owner to convert the structure into transitional housing for recovering drug addicts, people struggling with homelessness and others. City records show a building inspector on March 6 had verified a violation involving deferred maintenance.

The violation had been alleged by the nonprofit organization that rented two of the three floors of the structure for the transitional housing. 

City records also show the building owner was cited on March 2 for large amounts of trash and debris stacked around the property. Residents said the debris was recently removed, but other problems persisted.

City records show an open investigation into complaints about electrical issues, pests and lack of heat.

James Cook, an attorney for the Urojas Community Center, which occupies the first two floors of the building, said that the building owner sent an eviction notice to the center days after the December warehouse fire at the Ghost Ship.

The center assists about 60 people with transitional housing and services, Cook said. He had complained to the city about clogged toilets and disgusting bathrooms, exposed wires and water an inch thick on the ground floor, he said.

“It’s like Ghost Ship, but worse,” Cook said.

Residents on Monday echoed concerns about deplorable living conditions, including nearly unpassable hallways filled with trash, tattered furniture and other debris.

A boy who was evacuated from a four alarm apartment fire clutches a Mickey Mouse plush toy Mon., March 27, 2017, in Oakland, Calif. AP

Keith Kim, who is identified on public records as the building’s landlord, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

“At the least the rats are gone, and I grabbed my purse,” said 62-year-old Angela Taylor, laughing bitterly as she stared at the smoldering building. “It’s the purse, but it’s better than nothing. A lady needs her purse.”

She paid $550 a month for a room on the first floor, Taylor said.

Several residents said they discounted the initial commotion over the fire because the building and neighborhood are noisy. Loud arguments occur frequently, and some residents stayed up late, drinking and partying.

Kirsten Evans, 52, said she is paying $1,100 a month for a small studio apartment without a kitchen in the building. She said she moved in three years ago after she was evicted from an apartment she lived in for 20 years because her landlord wanted to raise her rent dramatically.

She said she woke up briefly Monday to take her medication and heard yelling and screaming. She crawled back into bed and pulled the covers over her head because loud disputes in the early mornings are frequent.

“I thought it was a fight,” she said.

A four-alarm fire swept through an Oakland residential building early Monday, killing one resident who was not able to escape the deadly blaze, officials said. CBS San Francisco

Then she said she heard the windows popping, shattering from the heat. A skylight in the hallway overhead shattered, and the glass fell outside her door.

Her window opened to the interior of the building, and she said it was glowing orange and red. That’s when she dressed and fled.

Evans said she trampled over broken glass and that wires and light fixtures were sparking red and white.

“I didn’t hear a fire alarm,” she said.

Ruben Deon Mitchell Jr. said he was awakened to screams of a fire in the Oakland building where he lived on the first floor. He said he opened the door to smoke in the hallway and heard children hollering from the second floor. He told them to use the fire escape, which he said they did.

Residents included a 9-year-old boy who escaped in his underwear and socks. Red Cross volunteers found him a pair of sweatpants.

Gilbert Jones, a 64-year-old retiree who has lived in the building for about two years, said he also didn’t hear any smoke or fire alarms going off, according to CBS San Francisco.

Jones said he was awakened by people shouting “fire” and “get out” in the hallway outside of his second floor unit.

He opened his front door and was confronted by thick smoke and flames but was able to make his way to a fire escape at the front of the building and climb down to safety with one or two other residents.

The blaze was visible for several miles and it sent a massive plume of smoke over Oakland.

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