Multiple violations found days before fatal blaze killed 4
Officials found the building lacked fire extinguishers, smoke detectors in every apartment and a working fire sprinkler system
By Paul Elias and Janie Har
OAKLAND, Calif. — Inspectors discovered that a California building in a rundown neighborhood lacked fire extinguishers, smoke detectors in every apartment and a working sprinkler system just three days before a blaze erupted and killed four low-income residents.
Officials uncovered multiple fire code violations during an inspection Friday and ordered the owner of the Oakland building to immediately fix the fire alarm and sprinkler systems, according to documents released by the city.
Residents complained they didn't hear alarms, feel sprinklers or see fire extinguishers early Monday as they fled flames tearing through the three-story building that housed some 80 recovering drug addicts and former homeless people.
Michael Jones said he was awakened by screams of "fire," bolted out of bed and instinctively pounded on the doors of his elderly neighbors and ushered them to safety.
Jones, 43, then found Princess, the "house" pit bull, cowering in the backyard, and the two ran out the front door as glass shattered from the heat.
The fourth body was discovered Tuesday at the building where four other people were injured, authorities said.
The Alameda County coroner has identified one of the victims as Edwarn Anderson, 64. The others have not yet been identified.
The fire broke out nearly four months after a warehouse called the Ghost Ship caught fire and killed 36 people attending an unlicensed concert about 5 miles (8 kilometers) away.
The deadly blazes have raised questions about the use of some buildings in Oakland for housing amid a shortage of affordable places to live in the San Francisco Bay Area.
"At least the rats are gone," said Angela Taylor, 62, clutching her purse, the only possession she managed to get out of a room she paid $550 a month to live in. "It's the wrong purse, but it's better than nothing. A lady needs her purse."
In 2010, Oakland allowed the owner of the 40-unit building that burned Monday to convert it into transitional housing, records show.
Since then, it has been the subject of several building department citations and investigations. City records show officials verified complaints about deferred maintenance from a nonprofit organization that rents most of the building.
Its owner, Keith Kim, did not return telephone calls from The Associated Press. He was sent a notice of violation on March 2 over complaints of large amounts of trash and debris, building materials and furniture behind the property.
The building department also has an open investigation into complaints of "no working heat throughout the building, electrical issues and a large pest infestation," city records show.
The investigation came after fire officials were criticized for failing to inspect the Ghost Ship warehouse and the mayor conceded that agencies need to improve communications. Records showed that police responded to a number of complaints there in the months before the Dec. 2 blaze.
The cause of the Ghost Ship fire is still under investigation. Fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed has said she would retire May 2.
Days after the warehouse fire, the owner of the building that burned Monday sent an eviction notice to Urojas Community Center, which leased the first two floors, said James Cook, an attorney for the center.
The center assists about 60 people with transitional housing and services, Cook said. He had complained to the city about clogged toilets and disgusting bathrooms, exposed wires and water an inch deep on the ground floor, he said.
"It's like Ghost Ship, but worse," Cook said.
Residents said the hallways were cluttered with trash and debris.
"There were no sprinklers or fire extinguishers," said Curtis Robinson, 52, who had to leave his wheelchair behind in the scramble to escape the flames.