Though suspicions of arson were quickly raised this week following news of an unfolding showdown between the landlord and a nonprofit tenant, an initial investigation has concluded that an unattended candle was the source of the fire that burned through 2551 San Pablo Avenue on Monday in Oakland. As ABC 7 and the Associated Press are reporting, the fire that killed four people has been deemed an accident, at least in this initial investigation, despite the coincidence that fire safety inspectors had just visited the building several days prior and recorded multiple violations.
City spokesperson Karen Boyd confirmed the news for the Chronicle, but no further information on the investigation has been released.
The flood of documentation about the building and its various inspections continues, however, and we learned yesterday that the city could have been in violation of state law by allowing more than a year to elapse between fire inspections.
Records show that the building was "compliant" in five inspections between 2007 and 2012, but 2012 is the year that current master tenant Urojas Community Services moved in, managing a block of units for formerly homeless people and recovering addicts. The records become sketchier in 2014 and 2015, as the Chronicle reports, and someone reported the building to the Fire Department in September 2015, leading to an inspection, the results of which are not clear in the records.
Erica Terry Derryck, spokesperson for Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf, issued a statement saying, "We are trying to release information as we get it in real time, but we don’t completely know yet what records exist or don’t exist."
Especially if the case is officially deemed not to be one of arson, this fire is certain to draw even more scrutiny for the city, its building inspectors, and its fire department, this being the second deadly fire in a large building in just over four months.
An anonymous fire department source tells the Chronicle that inspectors there are simply stretched too thin to conduct annual inspections, and "these people are working their asses off, and there are not enough people to get the job done."