Ghost Ship Timeline: How the investigation into the deadly fire unfolded

ByJuan Carlos Guerrero KGO logo
Monday, May 4, 2020
TIMELINE: How the Ghost Ship fire investigation unfolded
Two men were charged for the deaths of 36 people in the Ghost Ship fire, but the investigation put a spotlight on incidents before then that could have prevented the tragedy.

OAKLAND (KGO) -- The inferno that killed 36 people at the Ghost Ship warehouse was tragic, but it did not surprise people who saw the building before the blaze broke out in 2016.

GHOST SHIP TRIAL: Verdict reached against defendants in deadly Oakland warehouse fire

"It's a huge fireplace in here," remarked Oakland police officer Moises Palanco during a 2015 visit to the Ghost Ship. In bodycam footage obtained by the Bay Area News Group, the officers commented on exposed electrical wires and poorly built stairs.

The tragedy occurred on Dec. 2, 2016, but it was foretold way before.

PHOTOS: Full list of victims in Ghost Ship warehouse fire

Here is a timeline of how the investigation into the fire and the involuntary manslaughter trial of master tenant Derick Almena and his assistant Max Harris unfolded.

Dec. 2, 2016

A fire breaks out at 11:20 p.m. during a concert at the Ghost Ship warehouse, a building that housed artists but was not permitted for housing or entertainment use. The fire began in the first floor and trapped partygoers in the second floor. It took firefighters five hours to extinguish the blaze.

36 people died in the blaze, the deadliest fire in Oakland history.

Officials expect the death toll to rise inside the Ghost Ship warehouse that caught fire during a party in Oakland late Friday night, killing at least nine people.

Dec. 3, 2016

Scrutiny is placed on the Ghost Ship master tenant Derick Almena after a Facebook post in which he commented, "Everything I worked so hard for is gone," but did not mention the victims of the fire.

Dec. 4, 2016

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley launched a criminal investigation into the fire. Later that day, fire officials announce that they have recovered the bodies of 36 victims.

Dec. 5, 2016

ABC7 News tracked down Almena and asked for him to comment on the fire. He said, "They're my children. They're my friends. They are my family. They are my loves and my future. What else do I have to say?"

ABC7 News spoke exclusively to the man who rented out the Ghost Ship warehouse in Oakland for Friday night's concert party.

Dec. 7, 2016

City officials claim that building inspectors had not been inside the Ghost Ship warehouse in the past 30 years. Yet it was later revealed that weeks prior to the fire, an inspector for the Planning and Building Department went to the property after it received a complaint of debris. The inspector was not able to enter the building. The city issued a citation a few days later.

Dec. 23, 2016

The parents of two of the fire victims filed lawsuits against owner of the building, Chor Ng, the primary tenant and the event promoter.

Jan. 23, 2017

Lawyers for Almena claimed the fire originated in an adjacent building and that Almena was not responsible for the blaze.

Feb. 8, 2017

Documents released by the city of Oakland show that several city agencies, including the police department, visited the Ghost Ship warehouse 35 times in the months and years leading up to the deadly fire.

New documents released by the city of Oakland reveal just how many times city officials, inspectors, police and fire officials were inside the Ghost Ship warehouse long before the deadly fire that claimed 36 lives last December.

March 14, 2017

Oakland Fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed announced her retirement amid questions of inspection procedures and management following the Ghost Ship fire.

March 18, 2017

Oakland City Attorney's Office is criticized for not sharing a critical report prepared by the fire department about the fire with the Alameda County District Attorney's office.

March 24, 2017

The East Bay Times reports that the son of the building owner knew about electrical problems at the Ghost Ship two years prior to the fire.

June 5, 2017

Almena and Harris were arrested and charged with felony involuntary manslaughter. The owner of the building was not charged. Almena makes his first court appearance in Lake County.

June 19, 2017

A report issued by the Bureay of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Alameda County Arson Task Force and the Oakland Fire Department did not determine the cause for the deadly blaze due to extreme fire damage. The investigation concluded that the fire began in the northwest area of the ground floor. It also found that all 35 victims died of smoke inhalation.

A memorial for the victims of the Ghost Ship Fire in Oakland recently disappeared and was replaced by a poem by an anonymous writer on the columns surrounding Lake Merritt.

Dec. 6, 2017

A preliminary hearing began to determine if Almena and Harris could stand trial. On December 14, a judge ruled that a trial can move forward.

April 29, 2018

Oakland police bodycam video obtained by Bay Area News Group reveals that officers went inside the Ghost Ship a year before the fire and commented about the fire danger in the building and unsafe construction.

Newly obtained body camera video reveals the observations of Oakland Police officers at the Ghost Ship artists' collective well before it burned down.

July 3, 2018

Prosecutors reach a plea deal. Almena and Harris agree to plead no contest to 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter. Almena would receive 9 years in prison and Harris 6 years. Family members of the victims are upset about the plea deal.

Aug. 10, 2018

The judge overseeing the case discarded the plea deal stating that Almena and Harris did not accept "full responsibility and remorse" for the fire. A trial moves forward.

Aug. 13, 2018

In an exclude jailhouse interview with ABC7 News, Almena said he was stunned when a judge dismissed the plea deal that would have resulted in a nine year jail sentence for him.

In a stunning move, a judge rejected the plea deal for the two Ghost Ship Fire defendants, Derick Almena and Max Harris. The men are facing criminal prosecution over the deaths of 36 people killed in the fire.

Aug. 15, 2018

Max Harris' attorney announces he will file a motion to sever his client's case from Derick Almena's case after the judge denied the plea agreement because Almena did not show enough remorse.

Sept. 7, 2018

The judge sets a trial date.

Dec. 11, 2018

Attorneys for the defendants in the Ghost Ship fire case have filed a citizen's arrest for the owners of the Oakland warehouse and city officials who visited the building prior to the fire.

Defendants Max Harris and Derek Almena each face 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter for the Dec 2, 2016 fire.

April 30, 2019

An emotional start to the trial as prosecutors read the names of all 36 people who died in the fire during opening statements and then showed some of the text messages some of the victims sent to family members before they died.

June 17, 2019

Max Harris took the stand and tried to minimize his role in the operations of the Ghost Ship but was later contradicted about his role by prosecutors.

Derick Almena's attorney Tony Serra was livid outside court over a prosecutor's questioning of Almena regarding a 2015 incident, a wild New Year's Eve party held at the Ghost Ship, after which Almena's young son found a used condom.

July 8, 2019

Almena testified in his defense. He admits that all the electrical, plumbing and carpentry work was done without permits.

July 16, 2019

Testimony ends

July 29, 2019

Closing arguments began.

July 31, 2019

Deliberations began.

Sept. 5, 2019

The jury in the Ghost Ship trial acquitted defendant Max Harris on all 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter. The judge declared a mistrial for Derick Almena after the jury was deadlocked 10-2.

Oct. 4, 2019

Derick Almena's request for a bail reduction was denied in an Oakland courtroom on Friday. He will stay in jail until his next trial.

May 4, 2020

Derick Almena was released on bail amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Take a look at full coverage on the deadly fire at the Ghost Ship warehouse in Oakland.