The investigation continues into the Friday night Oakland warehouse fire that took place during an electronic dance party. ABC News reports that the death toll has now reached 36 and is expected to climb, perhaps substantially. CNN reveals that the condition of the building’s wreckage remains dangerous for firefighter exploration, and as of Sunday morning, only 20% of the site had been searched.
As a result, authorities request that the families of victims (and presumed victims) gather and preserve hairbrushes and toothbrushes to aid DNA investigations. Alameda County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ray Kelly called the number of deaths “astronomical” and believes this could be the deadliest fire in the city’s history (a 1991 fire killed 25 people). Search efforts will continue for “days and days,” according to Kelly.
The building, known to locals as the “Ghost Ship,” was zoned as a warehouse but functioned largely as a residential building and artists’ studio. Although a thorough investigation of the premises isn’t yet possible, authorities believe that the fire was likely an electrical one, perhaps due to faulty wiring, rather than a case of arson.
Search efforts have been complicated by the how the building’s roof collapsed into the second floor, which has in turn partially collapsed onto the ground floor. Prospects are grim, and firefighters are emotional over the scene:
Fire Department Battalion Chief Melinda Drayton told ABC News that firefighters have been impacted emotionally by bodies found. She described the precarious scene firefighters have encountered inside of what is left of the warehouse, where the second floor is hanging just above the heads of search crews, with pianos, appliances and other materials dangling from above.
James McMullen told CNN that firefighters are not only deterred by safety concerns but also by a need “to preserve the scene” for investigators to pinpoint the blaze’s cause.