As the death toll continues to rise in the Oakland Ghost Ship fire disaster, CBS reports that a criminal investigation is underway and the venue has now been declared a crime scene. Investigators will look into the warehouse’s collapse and negligent fire safety compliance, which authorities were already aware of in 1998 when the warehouse was reported for being used as a makeshift junkyard overrun with weeds, according to a report by NBC. Since that first complaint, many more have been lodged and yet 18 years later that original file remains open. The warehouse was most recently being used as a makeshift artist’s colony and concert venue even though it did not have permits for either residential use or for performances.
With more than 30 reported casualties and with nearly 70 percent of the search completed, it is still feared that the number of lives lost in the city’s worst disaster will continue to climb. Families are further devastated by reports that the illegally converted warehouse received notice of violation by city inspectors following complaints by neighbors on November 21, less than two weeks before the fateful rave party.
According to the East Bay Times, when the inspectors arrived to investigate, there was no answer and the matter was not pursued further, and yet it has now come to light that the building had no sprinklers or fire alarms and only two known exits. When the roof of the building collapsed, the partygoers were trapped inside. By the time firefighters arrived around 11:30 p.m., the structure was consumed by flames. As the Ghost Ship website shows, the venue was virtually packed with flammable materials. The warehouse manager Derick Almena, who goes by the name Derick Ion, and his and his wife, Micah Allison, are claiming that accusations that they bear responsibility are unfounded and unfair. However, as reported by ABC, Almena was required to obtain a special permit for Friday night’s party at Ghost Ship. His failure to do so may result in criminal charges.
As rescuers sift through the rubble, people are asking what can be done to prevent such tragedies from happening again. The Ghost Ship fire is not the first to befall an American nightclub. In 2003, The Station nightclub in Rhode Island was similarly stricken, resulting in 100 deaths. In the aftermath of the fire, which investigators found was exacerbated by lack of adequate safety measures, the National Fire Protection Association convened an emergency panel, resulting in the introduction of provisions for mandatory sprinklers and crowd management measures in case of fire. These provisions were not implemented at the Ghost Ship.
Tragic incidences such as the ones in Rhode Island and Oakland are not limited to the US, hundreds of people worldwide have died in nightclub fires in the past five years. In many cases the number of victims has been higher because of insufficient fire prevention and lack of exits. In October 2015, a fire in a Romanian nightclub killed 64 people. That tragedy was blamed on insufficient fire exits and the admission of more people than the venue could safely accommodate, resulting in the arrest of the club’s owners on manslaughter charges.
It remains to be seen whether such actions will be taken against the Ghost Ship’s owners, although CBS reports that homicide charges are being considered.
In response to the difficulty of providing adequate fire safety and crowd control, several cities have weighed an outright ban on raves and festivals. This past March, for example, Los Angeles chose not to forbid EDM parties and instead decide to consider each gathering on a case to case basis. According to Fox News, the ordinance would only affect gatherings of over 10,000 people or more. What is clear in the aftermath of the Ghost Ship tragedy is that rave organizers and club owners must take responsibility for the safety of partygoers. By ignoring fire ordinances and packing unsafe venues with people, these concerts are posing an unnecessary risk.
As the hours pass and more Ghost Ship fire victims are recovered, questions are being asked about what officials could have done to prevent the tragedy and fingers are being pointed at the club’s owners and managers. For the loved ones left behind, the attention is too little, too late.
[Featured Image by Dimas Ardian/Getty Images]