OAKLAND, CA (WCMH/AP) — Thirty-six people have died after a warehouse fire in Oakland, Calif. this weekend, but the search continues for more bodies inside the wreckage.
The building, known locally as the “Ghost Ship,” contained artists’ studios and illegal apartments. The city was investigating the building for possible code violations.
“We have no idea how many people were in that building that night,” one official said. “We don’t even know how many people got out of that building.”
The Columbus Division of Fire inspects buildings open to the public at least once a year to make sure they meet fire code.
“Anything that would cause a fire or could cause a fire, anything that would inhibit somebody from exiting the building rapidly,” said Columbus Fire Battalion Chief Steve Martin.
Inspectors also keep an eye out for anything that could prevent firefighters from putting out the flames.
“If we see something like there’s boxes stacked in front of an exit, we’ll have those removed immediately before we leave,” Martin said.
Inspectors allow a little time for other violations to be corrected. But if things are not fixed, charges can be filed against the property owner or landlord.
“Being that we go into these buildings at least once a year, you know, we can take steps to make sure that everybody in the public is safe,” Martin said.
In Oakland, concerns about an unstable wall inside the burned building brought recovery efforts to a halt overnight Sunday into Monday. That challenge is familiar to firefighters in other cities.
“To oversimplify, one of our mottos is ‘risk a lot to save a lot, risk a little to save little,'” Martin said.
Martin said this is the case when there are presumed to be no survivors inside.
“We don’t want to put somebody in harm’s way to recover a body, because it’s not going to matter if they’re there for a day or a week,” Martin said. “The people in Oakland, what they have to do now is weigh out the benefits of putting people in a building that might collapse on them.”
In Oakland, as friends and even strangers mourn the missing and the dead, the fire is a reminder of why fire codes are put into place.
“If there’s a building that’s zoned for a certain usage and upon our annual inspection, we find out that it is being used for something other than what it’s supposed to be, then we can refer it to the building department or code enforcement,” Martin said.
Martin urged people in Central Ohio to check smoke alarms in their houses or businesses every six months.