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Firefighters Tried To Get Oakland Building Shut Down Prior To Deadly Blaze

OAKLAND (KPIX 5) -- Survivors of the deadly March 27 apartment fire in West Oakland are demanding answers after city records showed a fire station called for the building near San Pablo Avenue to be shut down in January.

For Shemia and Bobby Bishop, the last week has been a nightmare.

"I had to wake my neighbors up, I had to wake my wife up. You know, I was scared and I still live and dream this s**t," Bobby Bishop said.

They're among the residents living in a shelter after their apartment building went up in flames, killing four people.

The building is the site of documented fire hazards and code violations, including a lack of sprinklers and fire extinguishers.

"So they really need to get on these codes to make sure a building is habitable," Bobby Bishop said.

Back in January, Oakland's Station 15 recommended shutting down the apartment building "due to the danger to life safety"

Then in February, another email sounding the alarm, saying "this building is dangerous!" and stating "Please let station 15 know what we can do to get this place shut down, updated and repaired."

We asked the mayor -- given the chain of emails of warning -- what went wrong?

Mayor Libby Schaaf said, "We aren't here to second guess, we are here to say our systems have got to get stronger."

Assistant City Administrator Claudia Cappio said, "Perhaps if the fire chief or another building official had gotten that message there would have been an awareness that we had to follow up on those building concerns more quickly."

Fire investigators say it was human error, specifically candles, which caused the fire.

But the fire could actually have been even more deadly.

Station 15 emails show that at one point the fire escape was padlocked.

Firefighters cut the padlock off the fire escape prior to the deadly night.

Dozens of people were forced to race out through that fire escape during the blaze.

Community organizer Etta Johnson said, "I feel like the fire department did their job -- it was the City of Oakland building codes that didn't do their job, like they don't normally do."

Oakland Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan is urging the public to donate to help San Pablo fire victims, stating,

"I am deeply saddened by the West Oakland fire that took the lives of 4 Oakland residents, and displaced more than 80 people from their homes. In this difficult time, it is important for us to support those adversely affected by the fire. I am thankful to the Oakland Warehouse Coalition for starting an online fundraiser for survivors of the fire, which has to date raised over $24,000. Please consider donating to this fundraiser here: All funds gathered will be delivered directly to survivors, with the assistance of Urojas and Healthy Communities, to assist folks needing immediate housing, clothing, food, and support."

Mayor Schaaf said the city plans to double the number of fire inspectors, from six to 12, and plans to retrain all firefighters on blue-tagging, a process that will allow firefighters to take some corrective action on their own without necessarily having to get approval first.

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