Oakland fire: Warehouse was under investigation at time of deadly blaze

Warehouse fire investigation

OAKLAND, Calif. -- There are early indications the Oakland warehouse that was the site of a deadly fire had a makeshift staircase made of wooden pallets.

Officials confirm the site was under active investigation for trash violations and illegal construction.

“The last designated use of the property was as a warehouse,” said Darin Ranelletti of the Oakland Building Department. 

Investigators were also looking into whether people may have been living there illegally. 

“Permits would be needed for people to live in the building and those permits had not been issued,” Ranelletti said. 

Several dead, many more missing after Oakland warehouse fire

Just two weeks ago, investigators attempted to inspect the property but could not secure access. Friday night’s party may have been another violation.

“Such a party would have required a special permit from the city and such a permit had not been issued,” Ranelletti said. 

The warehouse had been renovated into an artist’s studio filled with so many objects that officials say it resembled a flea market. 

“The whole building was divided up into small areas that were basically work areas for artists,” said Deputy Fire Chief Mark Hoffmann. “So it ranged from people doing woodworking to people doing sculpting to people doing kinetic art.”

Officials said there was no evidence of working smoke alarms or a sprinkler system. Most of the victims were found on the second floor. When crews arrived, the only staircase -- apparently made from wooden pallets -- was burning .  

“We knew people were in there and we were trying to get them out and it was a labyrinth,” Hoffmann said.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will assist the local firefighters in the investigation. They said there was no reason to believe this was arson, but they need to investigate for all possibilities -- from faulty wiring to something as simple as a cigarette.