The four-alarm fire that broke out early Monday morning in a West Oakland building, killing at least three people and displacing over 80, may not have been accidental as a lawyer for a group of tenants facing eviction is saying. Also, the landlord of the building had been notified of multiple code violations, some as recently as March 24, and had tried unsuccessfully in February to physically evict some tenants with the help of several other men. As a result, the tenants sought a restraining order against him.
Sadly, this fire and the loss of a home for dozens of people appears to be another bit of fallout from the Ghost Ship tragedy, as this landlord, Keith Kim, had been attempting to evict a non-profit who was the building's master tenant since shortly after the December 2 Ghost Ship fire. The East Bay Express reports that Urojas Community Services, a nonprofit that subleased rooms in the building as transitional housing for recovering drug addicts and formerly homeless people, was fighting the eviction with the help of attorney James Cook, from the law offices of noted civil rights attorney John Burris. Recently, Kim served Urojas with a 30-day notice of eviction, and as Cook tells the Express, "Next thing I know, I get up this morning, my client’s building is on fire."
Urojas had further filed a housing habitability complaint with the city which was confirmed by city inspectors on March 3, according to the Express, with "a major plumbing leak spilling sewage into the first and second floors" and squatters occupying the third floor of the building. Urojas leased only the first two floors of the building, and of the 80 people displaced, they were currently servicing about 60.
As KRON 4 reports, inspectors had returned last Friday and found multiple fire code violations, including missing smoke detectors, missing fire extinguishers and more. "Inspectors ordered the owner to immediately service the fire alarm and fire sprinkler systems," according to the station, and when the blaze broke out just after 6 a.m. Monday, many residents complained that they never heard any alarm.
A slow and methodical investigation continues at the building at 2551 San Pablo Avenue, as ABC 7 reports, which has been difficult because so much of what remains of the three-story structure is unstable.
Three people are confirmed dead, including 64-year-old Edwarn Anderson, who is the only one so far to be identified by the coroner. A fourth person remains missing and is feared dead, as KRON 4 reports. Four others were hospitalized with smoke inhalation, but were expected to be released.
A temporary shelter for displaced victims of the fire was set up at the West Oakland Youth Center on Market Street in Oakland, thought it's unclear how long that shelter will remain in operation.
Victims like Darlene Jones tell ABC 7 they had to run out of the building with nothing, and "I just don't know what to do. I lost everything. I don't have nothing. Just bags, free clothes. I don't have underwear. I don't have nothing."
Salvation Army captain Purnell Hall tells the station that the biggest challenge is going to be relocating so many people. "The health needs, the drug needs... Being able to find places that will take the individuals in."