Home Opinion Indifference, Inaction Contributed to Oakland 'Ghost Ship' Warehouse Fire

Indifference, Inaction Contributed to Oakland 'Ghost Ship' Warehouse Fire

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Investigators in Oakland continue to look for the cause of the blaze that killed 36 people and injured scores more during a concert. The fire occurred in a warehouse commonly known as the "Ghost Ship" on December 2. The last five victims were identified on Friday, December 9.

The Ghost Ship fire was the deadliest fire in Oakland’s history. It is also the deadliest fire in California since the fire sparked by the 1906 earthquake in neighboring San Francisco.

The exact cause of the blaze is still under investigation. However, human and institutional indifference and inaction were contributing factors.

Oakland officials acknowledge that the city received at least 10 complaints about the site and an adjacent garbage-filled lot. But city agencies took no action against the complaints.

Warehouse Not Inspected for Residential Use

Local investigative reporters last week determined that the Oakland Fire Department had never inspected the Ghost Ship warehouse. Well before the fatal fire, the warehouse had been converted into rental units for artists and residents.

The warehouse had not been inspected in 30 years, said Darin Ranelletti, Oakland’s interim director of planning and building.

Ranelletti said his office had not received any building permit applications within those three decades.

The Ghost Ship also had no permits for entertainment or residential uses.

Also, Ranelletti noted that “there were no violations that were submitted [by inspectors] for interior work within the main building attributed to that street address.” The owner of the building, Chor Ng, was cited as recently as November for hazardous trash and debris around the building.

The 62-year-old landlord reportedly has an Oakland property portfolio worth $5 million, many of them small businesses. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, she is a hands-off landlord.

No Fire Suppression Systems Inside Ghost Ship Warehouse

The interior of the warehouse had no fire suppression or fire alarm system, noted Jill Snyder, the special agent in charge of the San Francisco field office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Local officials are pointing fingers of blame at one another. Long-simmering tensions have intensified between Oakland’s first African-American woman fire chief, Terea Deloach Reed, and the local firefighters union. The union “for years has been lobbying behind the scenes to get her fired,” the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

The union faults Deloach Reed for not hiring a fire marshal until 2015, three years after her appointment. Also, she has not hired enough inspectors.

“I can’t answer how that warehouse slipped through the cracks and that it bypassed our system — or how it bypassed the city’s system,” Deloach Reed told CNN. She also acknowledged also that she could not say whether the building was even in the fire department's database.

When the norms of civic responsibility are overwhelmed or poorly administered, it falls upon individual citizens to provide leadership to do what’s right to preserve life and health, said Randall Cuthbert, retired APUS Professor of Emergency & Disaster Management.

He says we should all become our own fire marshal. Learn what is your responsibility – both to common cause and individual responsibility. “Think about it. Act on it. People may survive based on what you do,” advised Cuthbert.

David Hubler David E. Hubler brings a variety of government, journalism and teaching experience to his position as a Quality Assurance Editor at APUS. David’s professional background includes serving as a senior editor at CIA and the Voice of America. He has also been a managing editor for several business-to-business and business-to-government publishing companies. David has taught high school English in Connecticut and at Northern Virginia Community College. He has a master’s degree for Teachers of English from the University of New Hampshire and a B.A. in English from New York University. In March 2017, Rowman & Littlefield published the paperback edition of David’s latest book, "The Nats and the Grays, How Baseball in the Nation's Capital Survived WWII and Changed the Game Forever."