The East Bay Times, which has been doing a bang-up job staying on top of the Oakland fire story and its many narrative branches, has just reported the breaking news that, according to sources close to the investigation, authorities are blaming some overloaded electrical lines at the rear of the building for sparking the first flames that would ultimately take 36 lives the night of December 2.
Officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms are expected to reveal details about the fire's cause at a press conference Tuesday morning, but the source says that the investigation has concluded it was this overloaded cable, and the daisy chain of cords that were connected to it running power to well over a dozen artists' studios downstairs, and a residence and ersatz music venue upstairs, that was the cause of the fire.
It's been rumored that proprietor Derick Ion Almena had been stealing electricity from a neighboring business, but as the EB Times has it, the arrangement was something condoned by the property owner who owned several of the adjacent buildings as well, and she would collect proportional sums from the different tenants. A hole punched through the back wall of the building apparently brought electricity through, coming from a shared meter with "neighboring stereo and mobile phone shops."
Per the report:
Jake Jacobitz, who performed electrical work at the warehouse and occasionally stayed there, said breakers at the collective blew out often and the group’s leader Derick Almena would install his own electrical boxes. The power would come through a hole punched through the wall and tapped by anyone who needed it, Jacobitz said.
“The property owner [received] the bill so she would come to the artists; she would come to the mechanics shop; and she would come to the other little shops,” [City Councilman Noel] Gallo said last week. “She would say based on the bill I got you owe $200 this month, you owe me $300 and based on the bill you owe $50.”
Also, those familiar with throwing parties in the space, which would tend to require extra power for sound and lighting equipment, were familiar with blown fuses and outages.
“I tried to throw a party and the power would shut off — because of the way it was set up, all the plugs were in the same sockets. The whole place was wires and cables and wood It would spark and smell,” [said former resident DeL Lee].
We'll bring you more details Tuesday after the press conference.
Update 12/13: ATF spokesperson Jill Snyder said at the press conference that "No final determination has been made at this point" about the exact cause of the fire, as CBS 5 reports. Per KRON 4, "The electrical system is part of the ongoing analysis," but the investigative team will not give a certain answer just yet.
Though arson has been ruled out, as has a refrigerator at the back of the space that had been named earlier as a possible culprit, it may be that the exact source will not be definitively determined, as is often the case, officials have said. Via the East Bay Times' source, however, one can conclude that investigators are fairly certain that the highly illegal and overloaded electrical system remains the likely cause.