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California warehouse fire kills 9 at dance party

By Reuters
California warehouse fire kills 9 at dance party
This photo taken from video provided by @Oaklandfirelive shows the scene of a fire in Oakland, Dec 3, 2016. (Photo / AP)

OAKLAND – A fire that erupted during a dance party in a warehouse in Oakland, California, killed at least nine people and left about two dozen missing, raising fears the death toll would rise, authorities said on Saturday.

City and Alameda County officials said they expected to find more victims once the burned-out ruins of the two-story building, which housed an artists' collective, were shored up and recovery teams were able to safely enter the structure.

The blaze started at about 11:30 pm on Friday in the city's Fruitvale district, a mostly Latino, blue-collar area that is also home to many artists living and working in converted lofts.

The blaze started at about 11:30 pm on Friday in the city's Fruitvale district, a mostly Latino, blue-collar area

The cause of the blaze and exact number of casualties remained undetermined, said Oakland Fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed, who called it the worst single-structure fire she had seen in her career.

Still, nine fatalities had been confirmed, and authorities were "expecting the worst" as they sought to account for "a couple of dozen" people who were reported missing, Sergeant Ray Kelly, a spokesman for the county sheriff, told an afternoon news conference. Off-camera, he referred to "dozens" of missing.

Drone aircraft equipped with thermal-imaging technology were sent inside the gutted structure looking for any signs of life, but none was found, Kelly said.

The remains of just one of the nine confirmed dead had been recovered as of Saturday because the warehouse was still too unstable to enter, said Deputy Fire Chief Mark Hoffmann.

He said about a dozen people survived the blaze, including one who went to a local hospital for treatment.

The party was taking place on the second floor of the building, which had just two exits, one for each floor. A makeshift staircase appeared to be constructed from pallets.

The warehouse roof collapsed onto the second floor of the building during the fire, according to authorities, and portions of the second floor caved in on the first story.

California warehouse fire kills 9 at dance party

Firefighters clear an entry to a smoldering building after a fire tore through a warehouse party early Saturday, Dec 3, 2016 in Oakland. (Josh Edelson / AP)


Authorities said they did not suspect arson, but investigators want to find out if the building, which was partitioned into artists' studios, had a history of building code violations.

The city had received complaints about unpermitted construction at the building and opened an investigation, but an inspector failed to gain access to the structure on Nov 7, and the inquiry remained open, according to the city's buildings and planning chief, Darin Ranelletti.

He said the city was aware of reports that people were living there, but no permits had been issued for habitation. It was unclear, he said, whether special permits would be needed for the artists who had set up shop inside.

Many of the victims were young people in their 20s or 30s, authorities said.

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