Firefighters Continue Search For Victims In Deadly Oakland Warehouse Fire

Dec 4, 2016
Originally published on December 4, 2016 8:23 pm
Copyright 2016 KQED Public Media. To see more, visit KQED Public Media.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We have a report now from Oakland, Calif., where firefighters and other first responders are continuing to search through the scene of a devastating fire there Friday night. So far, the remains of at least 33 people have been recovered, seven of those have been identified. Member station KQED's Sandhya Dirks is at the scene in Oakland. Sandhya, thanks so much for speaking with us.

SANDHYA DIRKS, BYLINE: Absolutely.

MARTIN: First of all, could you just describe what this place is? It's been called a nightclub. It's been called a warehouse. What is the scene of this terrible story?

DIRKS: It's an artist's cooperative. It was an old warehouse which had been transformed into a spot for artists to work - and in this case live. Some of them were living there illegally. So it's this sort of brick building kind of funky that had been used for industrial purposes and had been then converted into a place for artists to gather.

MARTIN: And what's the latest update on the fire and the recovery process?

DIRKS: Well, it's a really painstaking process. Officials tell us that there is just loads and loads of debris inside the building which is making it very hard for them to get to victims that are inside. And so what they are doing is they are taking in shovels and buckets and slowly moving the debris to clear a path to try to find the bodies of those who died in the fire. And so, you know, it's just happening very slowly, and we're getting updates as the death toll rises.

MARTIN: Now, I understand that because this is going so slowly, it might be some time until we understand exactly what caused this. But are officials giving any indication of what they do think happened there?

DIRKS: They have not given any indication yet, and they, again, say that that's because they just haven't gotten to the part of the building where they can actually see what might have caused this fire.

MARTIN: Do we know anything about the people who are missing so far? Do we know anything about who was in the building at the time? Can you tell us anything about that?

DIRKS: There were a lot of artists, young people. I know that there were several college students. There are people that are missing from Berkeley College, from San Francisco State University, and so we know that there were a lot of artists, a lot of young people, a lot of the queer and trans community here in Oakland. And we're hearing from people whose friends and family are still missing, who are, you know, awaiting anxiously for news from officials. And we just know that a lot of young people died in this fire, a lot of people who were in their 20s and 30s which just adds to an already tragic event.

MARTIN: That's Sandhya Dirks. She's a reporter at member station KQED in San Francisco. She's reporting from Oakland. Sandhya, thanks so much for speaking with us.

DIRKS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.