Two people have been arrested in the Oakland Ghost Ship warehouse fire that killed 36 people. The landlord of the building—known as the “Ghost Ship”—was arrested for contributing to and allowing the building to become a death trap for residents and guests. His friend and colleague, referred to as the “creative director” of the Ghost Ship, was also arrested for his part in the Oakland warehouse fire. Both were charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter, one count for each of the deaths.
Derick Ion Almena—who was the property manager that turned the warehouse into an artist collective and concert venue—and Max Harris, the creative director, is alleged to have allowed up to 25 people to live illegally in the warehouse while failing to provide any fire safety equipment, and storing flammable materials in the building. On the night of the fire, an underground concert took place at the Ghost Ship and one stairwell to the second floor of the warehouse was blocked off, leaving anyone on the second floor with only a single means of escape from the building.
Alamena and Harris “knowingly created a fire trap, with inadequate means of escape. They then filled that area with human beings,” the district attorney alleged.
Most Victims Found on Second Floor of Ghost Ship
With 36 fatalities, the Oakland warehouse fire is the deadliest fire in the United States in more than 10 years. The tragedy unfolded at the start of an underground dance party that took place on the second floor of the warehouse on December 2, 2016. With scores of people at the dance party, combined with a power outage that occurred at the start of the fire, and one stairwell blocked off, the victims found on the second floor had nowhere to go to escape the flames.
The Ghost Ship, built and permitted as a warehouse, was converted into a collective with illegal tenants living inside. Despite numerous people living in the building, the Ghost Ship reportedly had not been inspected in 30 years by local and state authorities, and complaints about the warehouse piled up. Among the complaints received by government officials were hazardous trash on the premises, debris around the building, and illegal construction. Police did attempt to investigate the complaints but were allegedly told by Almena and Harris that the building was not occupied.
Tenants paid anywhere from $350 to $1,400 a month to live and work in the collective, although no permits were issued which would have allowed such activities to take place in the Ghost Ship.
Still No Known Cause of Oakland Warehouse Fire
Investigators have sifted through the wreckage to determine what started the tragic Oakland warehouse fire but the damage was so great that prosecutors said a cause may never be determined. Despite the unknown origin of the fire, criminal charges are still being made because the conditions of the building made it impossible for everyone to get out safely.
“Witnesses describe wood and other flammable objects being stored from floor to ceiling on the first level,” the criminal complaint reads. “Storing that amount of flammable material in the manner described … created an extremely dangerous fire load.”
Victims’ Families Happy with Charges
If convicted of all charges, Almena and Harris both face up to 39 years in prison for their roles in the 36 deaths. They are being held on approximately $1.1 million bail, but each maintains they are being used as scapegoats. The families of the victims affected by the Oakland warehouse fire say they are mainly happy that Almena and Harris have been charged, but there have been concerns raised that Chor Nar Siu Ng, the owner of the Ghost Ship, has not been charged.
Wrongful death lawsuits have been filed against Almena, Harris, and Ng. Also included as plaintiffs in the lawsuit is Pacific Gas & Electric Co., who plaintiffs say should have known about issues with the electrical hookups in the warehouse.