The Oakland warehouse where a fire killed at least thirty-six people on Friday was a communal studio and living space for artists who have been priced out of housing in the Bay Area.
Known as the Ghost Ship, the 4,000-square-foot building is owned by Chor Ng, who described the space as an art collective and claimed that “nobody lived there.” However, the structure has been under investigation for several months due to reports of illegal residences.
According to the New York Times, the Ghost Ship was a home for jewelers, metalworkers, dancers, and musicians. While described by some artists as a safe haven, it was also called a tinderbox, due to the makeshift studios filled with flammable objects, many generators, the tangled webs of electrical cords, and a temporary staircase between the first and second floors that was made with wooden pallets.
After the fire started on the evening of December 2, it quickly engulfed the building, where an electronic dance concert was taking place. The inferno raged for hours and ranks as one of the worst structure fires in the United States in more than a decade.
Deputy Fire Chief Mark Hoffmann said that some of the victims were trapped after the staircase collapsed and confirmed that the building, which only had two exits, also had no sprinkler system. The cause of the fire remains unknown, but investigators are considering whether it was a faulty electrical system, which often failed, forcing residents to use flashlights.
The event’s Facebook page has become a resource for identifying people who are still unaccounted for.