9 Confirmed Dead, at Least 25 Missing in Oakland Fire at Artist Collective Warehouse Party

Last night a fire killed at least nine people attending a warehouse party at an artist co-op Satya Yuga space called Ghostship in Oakland, Calif.

More than 25 people are still unaccounted for, according to Oakland Fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed’s comments to the Associated Press Saturday morning. According to reports Saturday morning, the structure remains unstable so a complete search has not concluded, and authorities fear the death toll could rise to 30 or 40.

According to the Oakland Police Department, the three-alarm fire was reported around 11:3pm Friday at the building at 31st Avenue and International Boulevard. The majority of those confirmed dead were trapped on the building's second floor.

The cause of the fire has not yet been confirmed. The warehouse was crowded with more than 50 people when the fire began, as the venue was hosting a concert/dance party featuring musician Golden Donna Friday night. The event's Facebook page has been updating the names of those believed missing. The Oakland Police Department asks those concerned about missing people to contact the Alameda County Sheriff’s Coroner’s Bureau at (510) 382-3000.

A search is ongoing for bodies and additional survivors who may still be trapped in the debris.

Facebook offers a Safety Check Page on which people can mark themselves “safe” after attending the event at Ghostship, or check in about the safety of friends and family.

A personal note from a former Oakland resident

In a comment on the Satya Yuga Facebook page, Hernan Matamoros, whose profile says he works in production and media for several underground music festivals, wrote:

“So many of our friends and groups in our community produce underground events such as this, that I can't help to think how many other times I was at a warehouse party where a similar situation could have unfolded. This highlights the importance of taking event production seriously even if it’s at a warehouse location. Proper electrical setups, proper evacuation procedures, clearly illuminated and marked exits, fire extinguishers, and event production staff to assist and facilitate in the evacuation.”

I have many artist and underground musician friends in Oakland—several of whom have lost loved ones in the Oakland fire—and I have attended many underground parties just like the one at Ghostship. I think it’s important to note that people don’t host parties underground just for kicks, but because there is so much red tape and expense involved when you try to host an above-board, fire-safe party. It’s either illegal to play music late at night due to noise ordinances, or exceedingly expensive to get the necessary permits in order.

I once had a conversation with Lorin Ashton—aka electronic music artist Bassnectar—for an article in the local Santa Cruz, Calif. newsweekly. He joked (I think he was at least half serious) that he wants to someday move back to Santa Cruz (where he got his start while attending UCSC) and run for mayor so that he can reverse the draconian noise ordinances many young people have dubbed “No Party Laws,” which make it near impossible to throw late-night events. Prohibitive noise ordinances are increasingly popular in cities across the San Francisco Bay Area and nation.

Oakland’s noise ordinance lists music at the top of the annoying “nuisance” noises that are prohibited after 9pm, and as in most cities trying to obtain a legal permit for a party where there will be drinking and live music is a painstaking and pricey process.

The fact is that people, especially young people, have forever danced into the late hours of the night. Ask any anthropologist. It is in our nature to play music and dance at night, just as it is in our nature to alter our consciousness with substances like drugs and alcohol. If the failed war on drugs has taught us anything, it is that when drugs are outlawed, people will use them illegally and the problems associated with them will only get worse. When parties are outlawed, people will find alternative spaces to hold them, and it could end in tragedy like the Oakland fire.

Below are a couple of videos showing the December 3 fire and its aftermath, posted by Washington Post and Reuters:

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