A massive fire broke out in Oakland, California, during a late-night party in a warehouse that housed artist studios, killing at least nine people and leaving about 25 missing, the city’s fire chief said on Saturday.
The blaze started at about 11:30 p.m. on Friday in the two-story warehouse in the city’s Fruitvale district, a mostly Latino area that is also home to many working artists living and working in converted warehouse lofts.
Fire officials have not yet determined how the fire started or an exact number of fatalities in the blaze, said Oakland Fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed, who called it the worst single-structure fire she had seen in her career.
An arson team has joined the investigation, although there is no immediate evidence that the fire was deliberating ignited, she said.
The roof of the warehouse collapsed during the fire, complicating efforts to recover bodies and investigate the circumstances surrounding the blaze, she said at a press briefing.
“There is a large majority of that building that has not been searched,” Reed said, pointing out that some of the 25 missing people may be among the nine confirmed victims.
“We are hoping that the number nine is what there is and that there are no more,” the fire chief said, referring to the number of known fatalities.
Some of those who were missing may have brought themselves to the hospital or elsewhere, she said, adding she did not know how many people were at the party or how many lived on the premises.
At an Alameda County Sheriff’s Office station not far from the fire, about a dozen people were waiting on Saturday for updates from authorities.
“I don’t have high hopes,” said a woman who had four friends among the missing, declining to give her name. She did not herself attend the dance party, but described herself as shocked and devastated. “We’ve just spent night calling hospitals and listening to police scanners.”
The warehouse housed makeshift artist studios carved out with curtains and other partitions, the fire chief said. The interior was cluttered with “a flea market of items,” she said. There was no evidence of any smoke detectors in the building.
The structure had only a single point of entry or exit from the second floor, where most of the dead were found, the chief said. A makeshift staircase appeared to be constructed from pallets.
A Facebook event page showed 176 people planned to attend the party, which featured a performance by the electronic music act Golden Donna.
Parents and others shared contact information on the page and asked anyone with information about missing children and friends to call: “ANY information please!” wrote a woman looking for her son.
Video footage posted on social media showed the structure engulfed in flames and encircled by fire vehicles pumping water into the building.
(Additional reporting by Letitia Stein in Tampa, Florida, and David Bailey in Minneapolis; Writing by Frank McGurty; Editing by Alistair Bell)