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Fire Tears Through East Oakland Warehouse Used As Artists' Collective

OAKLAND (CBS SF) – A three-alarm fire roared through a warehouse housing workspaces for artists in East Oakland early Friday morning, sending up plumes of smoke that could be seen for miles around.

According to Deputy Fire Chief Nick Luby, the fire was first reported around 6:30 a.m. at the warehouse located on 976 23rd Avenue, near East 11th Street in the city's Jingletown neighborhood.

"They made an aggressive interior attack to try to keep the fire to the point of origin. Unfortunately, the fire grew too quickly for them and had to retreat to a defensive posture," Luby said at a briefing.

Oakland Warehouse Fire
Smoke rises from a fire at the m0xy artists' collective building at 976 23rd Ave. in Oakland, August 9, 2019. (Oakland Fire Dept.)

The former metal work facility is home to an artist workspace called "m0xy." No one was in the building when the fire started, said Luby.

"More than a collection of artist studios, m0xy—with a zero, not an o—is a burgeoning community with a vision for helping artists and makers become creative entrepreneurs with thriving businesses," Oakland Magazine reported in 2017.

Luby said the building contained 37 different businesses, which included spaces for metalworking and woodworking. The deputy fire chief said at least 7-10 of those businesses were impacted by the fire, but the number could change once investigators are able to enter the building to assess the damage.

Smoke from the fire was visible from much of Oakland and across the bay in San Francisco.

Oakland Warehouse Fire East 11th & 25th
Chopper 5 over a warehouse fire at East 11th Street and 25th Avenue in East Oakland on August 9, 2019. (CBS)
oakland warehouse fire photo by camilo landau
Scene of a warehouse fire in East Oakland on August 9, 2019. (Camilo Landau)

Luby said 50-55 firefighters continued to battle the fire, nearly three hours after it was first reported.

No injuries or casualties have been reported. Neighboring businesses have not been evacuated so far.

Luby said the fire department is working closely with the building's owner and the building department.

It is unclear what started the fire.

In December 2016, a fire at another warehouse in East Oakland that had been converted into an artist collective - known as the Ghost Ship - killed 36 people.  The fire broke out during a concert and burned through living spaces at the facility, which city officials said did not have permits for residential or entertainment purposes.

A jury was deliberating whether or not to convict master tenant Derick Almena and assistant Max Harris of felony involuntary manslaughter charges in connection with the Ghost Ship fire.

Luby said the m0xy building, just a few blocks away from the Ghost Ship building, was not a live-work studio.

Rachel Sadd, a tenant in the burned area of the building, said that she expects that her studio was destroyed in the fire. She said the burned area housed about 10 different artists and businesses as well as the main m0xy offices.

It also had community spaces like a meeting room that were open to all m0xy tenants.

"I'm just incredibly sad," she said. "That's 20 years of my work gone. And I'm incredibly grateful for how m0xy was run and that nobody was hurt."

Sadd said that she makes a variety of art, including wearable art like costumes and clothing with electronics in them. She was in the process of building an interactive art piece for the Oakland Museum of California called Giftomatic.

She is also the executive director of Ace Monster Toys, a maker space in North Oakland, and said that she is making resources available there to people who are affected by the m0xy fire.

"My community can offer them at least tool access and shop access," Sadd said. "We just don't have the large warehouse space... but I might be able to connect them. At the very least as a community we can connect them with other resources."

Torrey Smith is a tenant in one of the areas that appears to be unaffected by the fire. He said that m0xy management was very concerned about fire safety and would regularly inspect their spaces and demand they make at times difficult changes.

"I was probably the one complaining the most (about the fire safety measures) but now I see that the fire was unable to spread from one area of the building, I can see the value in that," Smith said.

Smith's artist collective, Sextant, built a Tesla coil -- two 30-foot-tall towers that shoot 20-foot bolts of lightning -- that they have displayed internationally at the Beakerhead event in Calgary, Canada.

"Having access to a facility like that was instrumental in the Sextant art collective getting our Tesla coil working," Smith said.

More recently they have founded a medical robotics company, Endiatx, to make tiny pill robots to diagnose and treat illness in the human body. They were constructing parts for the robots inside m0xy.

"We're going to be OK but all I can say is that we've been putting the m0xy warehouse to good use not just in the arts space but also the high tech space."

Still, with the memory of the Ghost Ship fire still fresh, Smith said that he was especially glad no one was hurt.

"That was a really deep wound in the community that people are still hurting over," Smith said. "It's ok to lose some arts and some objects but people can't be replaced."

© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Bay City News Service contributed to this report.

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