Men charged in deaths at Oakland warehouse fire

In this December 13, 2016 file photo, flowers, pictures, signs and candles, are placed at the scene of a warehouse fire in Oakland, Calif. Attorneys representing the families of people who died in the Northern California warehouse fire that broke out during an unlicensed concert plan to file an updated lawsuit against the building's owner and manager Tuesday, May 16, 2017. "Master tenant" Derick Almena and his housemate and Ghost Ship creative director Max Harris were both arrested on similar charges.

Almena and Harris face up to 39 years in prison if convicted of all charges.

"Their reckless actions were the proximate cause of the death of the 36 individuals trapped inside the warehouse when the fire started", O'Malley said, noting that Almena and Harris had blocked off one of only two escape routes from the 10,000-square-foot warehouse the night of the fire.

Days after the tragedy, Almena apologized for the horrific fire during a weird interview on Today, though he flinched when asked if he should be held accountable.

Harris, 27, was given his title after Almena, 47, allowed Harris, along with his girlfriend and three children, to live in the multi-story Ghost Ship, according to the probable cause affidavit filed Monday. Based on photos and videos, the building was packed with tons of old art pieces, furniture and wooden cargo pallets - all of which fueled the flames. As a result of the blaze, 36 people died. The Oakland property known as Ghost Ship had just one rickety exit.

"The owner of the space from what I know leased out the space as a place where we would host events and do dance classes and workshops and concerts and music", he said.

District attorney spokeswoman Teresa Drenick said because of the nature of the fire and "it's consuming almost all of the evidence in that warehouse", the cause of the fire would likely "remain as undetermined".

"It is our fear that improper charges could be brought against Derick and others by Alameda County in order to divert attention away from their own irresponsible agencies", the lawyers said.

ABC affiliate KGO reports that several weeks after the fire Almena's attorney said that his client did not engage in any criminal misconduct, and alleged that the government was responsible for the fire because it did not crack down on code violations at the warehouse.

"I'm only here to say one thing: I'm incredibly sorry and that everything that I did was to make this a stronger and more lovely community and to bring people together", he said.

The ground floor had RVs and nooks used as living spaces that were rented out to tenants, while the upstairs had space for concerts.

No attorney, no family members and no friends came to support Almena. Harris has previously said he reported electrical problems to the building's owners and discussed power outages, necessary upgrades and electrical bills with them.

The Ghost Ship prior to the deadly inferno.

  • Larry Hoffman