Oakland Warehouse Landlord: 'My Heart Is Broken' After Fire

Authorities increase death toll to 36 victims, more expected as search of "Ghost Ship" called off due to structural concerns

The landlord of the Oakland warehouse where a fire Friday night claimed the lives of at least 36 people issued his first statement Monday. Credit: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

The landlord of the Oakland warehouse where a fire Friday night claimed the lives of at least 36 people issued his first statement Monday.

In the hours after the Oakland blaze, Derick Ion Almena, the proprietor of the warehouse dubbed the "Ghost Ship," took to Facebook to confirm that a fire had destroyed his belongings, but offered no condolences to those killed. The Facebook post garnered thousands of angry responses before it was deleted Sunday.

"In my previous Facebook post, I had no idea there was loss of life. This tragic event consumes my every moment," Almena wrote Monday. "My heart is broken. My heartfelt condolences to the family and friends who have suffered the loss of loved ones."

Almena continued, "My goal has been nothing less than to create an environment for art and creativity in our community. During this investigation, please continue to show support and compassion for those affected by this tragedy. The prayers of my family and I go out to the families of the victims."

Thirty-six people are confirmed dead in the fire, which occurred during an electronic music show late Friday night in the city's Fruitvale district. Over 50 people were in attendance for the performance, which took place despite Almena not having proper permits to host events of that magnitude.

On Sunday, authorities managed to comb roughly 70 percent of the warehouse before structural concerns forced firefighters to vacate the property. Authorities expect more bodies to be found when the remainder of the warehouse is searched.

"We absolutely believe the number of fire fatalities will increase," Oakland Fire Battalion Chief Melinda Drayton said (via Los Angeles Times).

"We have 36 families, not only grieving for their lost ones, but also they want to have answers and we as a city collectively are working to find those answers," Oakland police spokeswoman Johnna Watson said. "We want to provide answers not only for the families, but for our community."

Of the 36 victims, 11 have been identified, with authorities sharing the names of seven people: Cash Askew, 22, David Cline, 23, Travis Hough, 35, and Donna Kellogg, 32, Sara Hoda, 30, Brandon Chase Wittenauer, 32 and Nick Gomez-Hall, 25. The name of an eighth victim, a 17-year-old boy, was withheld because of his age.

Sgt. Ray Kelly, a spokesman for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department, told reporters that while most of the victims were in their 20s and 30s, some teenagers had attended the show, which advertised as the Oakland stop on Golden Donna's 100% Silk tour. Some artists associated with the performance, including Joey Casio and 100% Silk artists Cherushii (Chelsea Faith Dolan) and Nackt (Johnny Igaz), remain missing at press time.