OAKLAND, Calif. – The death toll in Oakland’s devastating “Ghost Ship” warehouse fire reached 33 on Sunday — with grim expectations that the figure will continue to rise, authorities said.
Loved ones of those still missing are being asked to secure and preserve their toothbrushes, combs and hairbrushes to help identify the dead through DNA.
“Sources of DNA such as hairbrushes, combs and toothbrushes, just put them inside a paper sack,” Alameda County Sheriff’s Capt. Melanie Ditzenberger told relatives of the missing. “Do not send them to the coroner, just hold onto those items for now.”
Cops said they hated making this request but believed it was necessary.
“It’s terrible to have to do this, but we are trying to preserve evidence for DNA purposes,” Sgt. Ray Kelly added.
For much of Sunday, loved ones of the missing were hunkered down at the Alameda County Medical Examiner and Coroner’s Office desperately waiting for any word.
“It’s like waiting for your name to be called, and if your name is called, it’s going to be the worst day of your life,” Kelly said. “It’s very tense in there.”
Flames ripped through the warehouse-turned-artist colony Friday night, and firefighters have been slow to get inside the burned-out structure, fearing that’s what left of the building could easily collapse.
The converted warehouse, in Oakland’s heavily Latino and rapidly developing Fruitvale District, had been known as the “Ghost Ship” and where a slew of artists lived illegally.
The fire erupted around 11:30 p.m. during an electronic dance-music party with between 50 and 100 people in attendance, officials said.
Authorities had originally put the death toll at nine before finding 15 more bodies Saturday and early Sunday, officials said.
Those 15 victims were found within a 15-foot wide search area that was cleared, bucket by bucket, by firefighters, authorities said,
Firefighters, from rookies to 30-year veterans, were struggling to deal with the gruesome scene.
“We have members from our latest class of recruits with two months on the job, and we have members over the course of the night with 30 years on the job. And every one of them has been emotionally impacted by this,” Oakland fire Battalion Chief Melinda Drayton said.
“It is tragic to watch so many people perish in a fire fatality in front of your eyes and have to be stoic in your job, be professional in your actions, and make sure you are
honoring victims and their families to bring them safely out of the building.”
With Post Wire Services and additional reporting by David K. Li