A bystander looks at the site of the warehouse fire in Oakland, CA Sunday, December 4, 2016.
Jay L. Clendenin—LA Times via Getty Images
By Mahita Gajanan
December 6, 2016

Bay Area artists and community members are blaming the Oakland warehouse fire, which killed at least 36 people, on the high local rents that make finding housing and artists’ spaces difficult.

The fire, which tore through the warehouse known as the “Ghost Ship,” during a dance party on Friday night, has become the most lethal building fire in the U.S. in over a decade. Prosecutors said on Monday that murder charges are possible, the Associated Press reports.

The building had been converted into artists’ studios and illegal living spaces. According to the AP, it was a “death trap” of wood, furniture and electrical cords, and already under investigation by the city after repeated complaints about code violations.

Many people knew the space was technically unsafe, but didn’t report it because dwindling locations in the area for the underground music scene had made it one of the few places people could afford to get together, the East Bay Express reported.

“I think they bit their tongues because we desperately need places to gather,” Nihar Bhatt, a Bay Area party promoter and record label owner who was at the party, told the Express.

Bhatt said people from the local underground music scene gather at potentially unsafe places because high rents in the area make it impossible to find above-the-board spots, and that marginalized people look to those spaces for their personal safety.

Josette Melchor, executive director of Gray Area Foundation of the Arts, told CNN that the fear of losing housing kept people from reporting the Ghost Ship’s issues.

“People are desperate for places,” she said. “It’s one of those things where you don’t wan to report something you see because you know how hard it is for people to find spaces.”

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said on Monday that her office has started a probe into the fire. Though they have not yet determined whether a crime happened, O’Malley said charges could range from murder to involuntary manslaughter. It remains unclear how the fire started.


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