Medical examiner: Ghost Ship victims died of smoke inhalation

All 36 victims died of smoke inhalation, not from burns or other fire-related injuries

By Kimberly Veklerov
San Francisco Chronicle

OAKLAND, Calif. — All 36 Ghost Ship warehouse victims died of smoke inhalation, not burns or other fire-related injuries, a medical examiner’s deputy said Friday.

Although the full autopsies were conducted in December and the causes of death since established, the coroner’s reports are still being finalized, the deputy said.

Deaths by smoke inhalation are the most common type of fire fatalities, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

UC Davis Professor Kent Pinkerton, who’s in charge of the medical school’s forensic science graduate group, said that death from smoke inhalation happens within a matter of minutes.

“All it takes is a few breaths,” said Pinkerton, who has reviewed some autopsy materials from the Ghost Ship case.

Breathing a combination of soot, carbon monoxide and extremely hot air will quickly lead a person to pass out and die, Pinkerton said.

“They didn’t die because of burns. They died of asphyxiation,” he said, noting that some of the victims also had airway burns. “Whatever oxygen was there couldn’t bind to red blood cells.”

The Dec. 2 warehouse fire was the deadliest structure fire in California in more than a century. The victims, ages 17 to 61, were in the converted artist collective for a music show.

Copyright 2017 the San Francisco Chronicle

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