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Ghost Ship Fire Victims Died Of Smoke Inhalation; Refrigerator Possible Cause

OAKLAND (CBS SF) – The thick billowing black smoke generated from the intense flames of the Ghost Ship warehouse fire was the likely cause of death for its 36 victims, authorities Tuesday.

Alameda County Sheriff's spokesman J.D. Nelson said the autopsies completed have revealed the victims died of smoke inhalation and not burns.

"The autopsies so far show the victims died from smoke inhalation," he told KPIX 5. "It (their deaths) was before any fire or any collapse...If you see the video and you see all that smoke, that smoke is so doesn't take many breathes of smoke like that to put you on the ground."

Meanwhile, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Tuesday afternoon that it is looking at the possibility that a refrigerator or other appliance was the source of a warehouse fire that killed 36 people.

Continuing Coverage: Deadly Oakland Warehouse Fire

Jill Snyder, the special agent in charge of the ATF's San Francisco office, said it's too early to say for sure a refrigerator caused the blaze, but she said it was a potential source of ignition. Snyder said investigators are looking at anything electrical on the first floor of the warehouse near where the fire started.

Heavy machinery was being used Tuesday afternoon to knock down structurally unsafe parapets at the building. Deputy Fire Chief Darin White told reporters that 90 percent of the building had been searched, but the parapets needed to removed to allow teams access to the final 10 percent.

Fire Operations Chief Mark Hoffman said crews planned to knock the parapets down into the building, but clarified that the area where they will fall has been searched and cleared of any bodies or evidence.

White said he hoped the search would be completed by midnight ahead of a storm front that was expected to move into the Bay Area on Wednesday.

Ghost Ship collective founder Derick Ion Almena told the "Today Show" earlier Tuesday that he was at the site to put his face and his body in front of the scene. However, he deflected blame for the blaze. Almena said he signed a lease for the building that "was to city standards supposedly."

"I'm only here to say one thing that I'm incredibly sorry and that everything that I did was to make this a stronger and more beautiful community and to bring people together," he said.

So far 36 bodies have been recovered, 26 have been identified, nine others tentatively identified including victims from Finland, South Korea and Guatemala. One other victim remains unidentified.

Authorities said families of those 25 all been notified of a loss for a loved one.

Alameda County Sheriff Sgt. Ray Kelly said investigators have had heart-breaking conversations with the families of victims who received texts from loved ones moments before they perished in the fire.

How You Can Help: Oakland Fire Relief Fund

"We've had a lot of intimate conversations with the families," he said. "The kids were sending texts to their parents telling them they loved them and they were going to die."

On Monday night, mourners gathered at emotional candlelight vigils in both Oakland and San Francisco.

"We took a devastating hit and all we want to do is honor those people and not put any blame on anybody," James Morales, who got choked up thinking about the five friends he said he lost in the inferno, told the San Francisco Chronicle. "It was like the Oakland electronic music underground 9/11. The people, the artists, the musicians are what make Oakland so tight."

Late Monday night 10 more names of those who died were released. As of early Tuesday the list of those who perished included:

  • Em Bohlka, 33, Oakland
  • Micah Danemayer, 28, Oakland
  • Chelsea Dolan, 33, San Francisco
  • Feral Pines, 29, Berkeley
  • Alex Ghassan, 35, Oakland
  • Michela Gregory, 20, South San Francisco
  • Edmund Lapine, 34, Oakland
  • Jennifer Morris, 21, Foster City
  • Benjamin Runnels, 32, Oakland
  • Jennifer Kiyomi Tanouye, 31, Oakland
  • Cash Askew, 22, Oakland
  • David Cline, 24, Oakland
  • Nick Gomez-Hall, 25, Coronado
  • Sara Hoda, 30, Walnut Creek
  • Travis Hough, 35, Oakland
  • Donna Kellogg, 32, Oakland
  • Brandon Chase Wittenauer, 32, Hayward

While the search of the burned out building is winding up, three other investigations are ramping up.

The tons of debris removed from the burned out structure has been removed to a secure offsite location where search teams aided by cadaver dogs are carefully inspecting the piles for any human remains that may be contained within them.

Two teams of investigators from the Alameda County District Attorney's Office were looking over evidence, city building records and interviewing survivors to determine if criminal charges will be filed in the deadly fire.

District Attorney Nancy O'Malley said charges could include multiple murder or manslaughter counts.

Her office is asking anyone who has information about the Ghost Ship warehouse or the fire to call their hotline at 1-877-288-2882.

TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press and Bay City News Service contributed to this report.

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