Oakland fire: Crews hopeful that death toll won't rise above 36, building 85 percent searched
OAKLAND — The meticulous search for bodies in the rubble of a devastating Fruitvale District warehouse fire neared its final stages Tuesday morning, and crews were hopeful that the current death toll of 36 would not rise.
Fire and recovery crews completed about 85 percent of their search by 6 a.m., and authorities said they'd begin combing through the final bit of debris after stabilizing a front corner of the building also known as the "Ghost Ship". Officials suspended the search around 10:30 p.m. Monday to address that concern, then resumed their search around 2 a.m.
"There are two pockets that remain (not) searched," Oakland Fire Battalion Chief Robert Lipp said. One of them will be processed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, he said, and Lipp "saw no reason" that it wouldn't be finished Tuesday.
"The remaining (pocket) is the (southwest) corner that remains unstable," he said.
Lipp was optimistic no more victims would be found by searchers.
"I don't anticipate (the number) going up," he said. "One area has potential but otherwise no. We're hoping we don't find any more bodies."
Lipp would not comment on a question about whether some of the victims were found holding onto each other.
The death toll from the state's deadliest structure fire since 1906 remained at 36. Authorities have identified 26 of the victims and tentatively identified nine of them. One victim remains unidentified.
The autopsies completed so far found that the victims died of smoke inhalation, the Alameda County Sheriff's Office said.
Officials did not release any additional names during a 6 a.m press conference on Tuesday. An additional 10 names were made public on Monday.
The founder of the Ghost Ship collective, Derick Ion Almena, was interviewed at the scene remotely by NBC's "Today" show. In the interview, which aired Tuesday morning, Almena was defensive when asked questions about the dangerous conditions of the building.
"I'm the father of this space," he told the "Today" show hosts. "On the night of the fire, did I know there was going to be a fire? Did I remove myself from this space and get a hotel because I wanted to avoid this, because I wanted to cast blame on other people. No."
Even though Lipp indicated the remaining search efforts should not take much longer, officials said there is no timeline on when they expect the search to be finished. Crews won't quit the search until they are convinced there are no other victims inside.
"We are not going to put an end time on this," police spokeswoman Officer Johnna Watson said. "It won't be until every piece of debris is removed and every part of the building searched."
Fire investigators said Tuesday they have zeroed in on a "point of interest" in the cause of fire but are not releasing details at this time. The fire began in the downstairs in the rear of the building and quickly spread upstairs, authorities said.
Police said many people were coming to the scene to offer support and said that donations could be made online at https://www.youcaring.com/firevictimsofoaklandfiredec232016-706684 .
Check back for updates.