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Oakland Fire At Warehouse Party Kills At Least 9

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The death toll from Friday's fire at an Oakland, Calif. warehouse has risen to 24. Melinda Drayton of the Oakland Fire Department described the ongoing search for bodies in the remains of the building.

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MELINDA DRAYTON: I can tell you when I was in there throughout the evening the somber approach that our firefighters and Alameda County Sheriff Department members took to this search. It was quiet. It was heartbreaking.

CHANG: Sukey Lewis of member station KQED joins us now. Welcome to the program.

SUKEY LEWIS, BYLINE: Hi, good morning.

CHANG: So there was a press conference this morning with city and fire officials. What did we learn about attempts to locate the victims?

LEWIS: Well, we learned for one thing that it's been very difficult to locate victims. So far, in the past 12 hours, they've cleared 20 percent of the space. That means there's still 80 percent to search. And the battalion fire chief said it's going to be a long process. And they expect it to take days before they get through the entirety of the building. She also said that in her experience, this is the most deadly fire in Oakland history. And for some context, in 1991 there was a big fire in Oakland Hills that killed 25 people. So they expect that number, 24, to rise significantly.

CHANG: And remind us, what happened there Friday night?

LEWIS: On Friday night, people went to this building to hear music, an electronic music show. And around 11:30, the fire broke out and seemed to move very rapidly, to consume the 10,000-square-foot, two-story warehouse that was a live-work space for artists called the Ghost Ship and was home to kind of an artists' collective. And the inside of the building was very kind of ornate with sculptures, drawings, rugs hanging from the walls, all of it highly flammable.

CHANG: The warehouse was also kind of a party space as well, right?

LEWIS: Yes. It looks like they regularly hosted events there. And back in July, there was a Facebook event that was advertised, and one in June as well. And so this seemed to be a place where people could come together and listen to music, see art, part of Oakland's, you know, very vibrant underground art scene. City officials were also investigating the site of the fire. On November 17, a city inspector went to the site. And they couldn't gain access to the building, but they were investigating the warehouse for allegations of illegal construction.

CHANG: Did you get any indication of how many more days the search is going to continue for?

LEWIS: The battalion fire chief kind of said, you know, basically, you do the math. It took 12 hours for us to do one-fifth. And so that would be, you know, two and a half more days to complete the search.

CHANG: Reporter Sukey Lewis of member station KQED. Thank you so much.

LEWIS: Thank you, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.