Oakland Apartment Building Where Fire Killed 4 People Was In Deplorable Condition

A previous inspection revealed that the apartment building wasn’t equipped with smoke detectors, fire extinguishers or a working sprinkler system. Photo by Ben Margot / AP

Multiple fire code violations were discovered at a Northern California building just three days before an early morning blaze that took the lives of four people Monday, March 27, according to the Associated Press.

An inspection at a housing complex in Oakland on March 24 revealed that the building lacked several fire safety essentials, including fire extinguishers, smoke detectors in each and every apartment and a working sprinkler system, according to documents published by the City of Oakland. Officials had since ordered the building owner, Keith Kim, to immediately repair the broken fire alarm and fire sprinkler systems.

Three days later, residents awoke to screams of “fire” and scrambled to save themselves and others from the burning building. Resident Michael Jones told the Associated Press he dashed out of bed, instinctively banged on the doors of his elderly neighbors and ultimately led them to safety. Jones, 43, was one of several residents who managed to escape the fiery building, which served as transitional housing for over 60 recovering addicts and individuals who were formerly homeless.

Many residents complained they didn’t hear fire alarms nor could they find fire extinguishers as they fled the shoddy housing complex. Oakland Fire Battalion Chief Erik Logan described seeing some people hanging from windows or in fire escapes when firefighters arrived at the scene. Another body was discovered on Tuesday, according to the Alameda County Sheriff’s office, upping the death toll to four.

The fatal fire comes just three months after a massive blaze at a warehouse called the Ghost Ship just 5 miles away that killed 36 people attending a concert there. Both the fires at the Oakland complex and the Ghost Ship warehouse, which doubled as a unlicensed living space, have sparked concerns about the San Francisco Bay area’s lack of affordable housing, which has forced the city to use subpar buildings for residential spaces.

“The place was disgusting,” James Cook, a lawyer who’s representing residents of the apartment building where Monday’s fire occurred, told The Washington Post. “The most deplorable living conditions you could imagine. Rats, roaches, you name it.”

Cook added that the building was marred by exposed wires, stopped-up toilets and walls that were crumbling from water damage. City records show that the building has been the subject of multiple code violations, investigations and grievances about deferred maintenance.

Much of the living space was being leased by Urojas Community Services, a local nonprofit that provides transitional housing, but it’s unclear who was managing the building when the fire broke out. The cause of Monday’s blaze is still being investigated.

According to Cook, “It’s like Ghost Ship, but worse.”

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