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Oakland "Ghost Ship" warehouse's Derick Ion Almena apologizes after blaze made "mass grave"

OAKLAND - The founder of an Oakland artists’ colony where dozens of people burned to death says he is sorry, but deflected blame for the blaze that gutted the warehouse that he now describes as a “mass grave.”

The death toll from the blaze currently stands at 36, and officials say it is unlikely now that number will rise.

Derick Ion Almena, who leased and operated the warehouse full of artists where the fire erupted Friday, told the “Today Show” on Tuesday that he was “incredibly sorry.” He said the only reason he was there Tuesday was to put his face and his body in front of the scene.

Almena said he started the community in the warehouse as a dream for the arts and performing arts, but, he said, sometimes “your dream is bigger than your pocketbook.”

He said he signed a lease for the building that “was to city standards supposedly.”

Almena said he lived in the warehouse with his family and other residents, but said he didn’t make a profit. He said, “This is not profit; this is loss. This is a mass grave.”

Shelley Mack told CBS News she rented a trailer in the building for a few months in late 2014.

“That place was a death trap,” Mack said.

Mack took a video which she said shows the potentially hazardous conditions.

“You turned on a heater and your electricity -- everybody’s electricity would go off, so it was continually overloaded,” Mack said.

Property records show there were numerous complaints against the building, including two just last month citing “a ton of garbage piling up” and an “illegal interior building structure.” 

Because this is now a criminal investigation, officials said some details may not be released publicly.

“We would not want to compromise the district attorney’s ability to hold people responsible who committed this potential atrocity,” said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. 

CBS News has been unable to locate the woman who owns the warehouse. We knocked on her door for two days but have not received a response. 

An official said several of the people who died in an Oakland warehouse fire texted goodbye messages to their families.

Alameda County sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Ray Kelly told reporters Monday some of the victims texted relatives, “I’m going to die,” and “I love you.”

Kelly said rescue crews have found bodies of people “protecting each other, holding each other.”

Hundreds of people holding candles honored those who died in the fire at a vigil Monday night in Oakland’s Lake Merritt.

Those in the crowd embracing each other or holding up candles or flowers and saying aloud the names of people they lost in the blaze.

Several people in the crowd have signs offering “free hugs.”