Documents show Oakland knew of building hazards prior to deadly fire

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Tuesday, April 4, 2017
Documents show Oakland knew of building hazards prior to deadly fire
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Emails show that Oakland Fire officials recommended that the city shut down the apartment building two months before the deadly fire.

OAKLAND, Calif. -- An Oakland fire captain recommended in January that a building that burned this week and killed four people should be immediately shut down for safety reasons, but department officials opted to take less drastic measures, records released Friday show.

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In an email dated Jan. 8 and titled "Fire Safety Hazard," Fire Captain Richard Chew reported that a fire alarm had been pulled and not reset and there were open piles of garbage on the third floor of the building and a padlock on the door to the fire escape.

He recommended officials consider shutting the building down immediately "due to the danger to life safety."

The records show Battalion Chief Geoff Hunter ordered Chew to cut the padlock and other officials to contact the building's owner to fix the alarm and remove trash.

Acting Assistant Fire Marshal Maria Sabatini said it was appropriate to give the owner 30 days to make repairs.

In December, Oakland became the site of the deadliest structure fire in U.S. history in a decade when 36 people died in a December blaze at a warehouse known as the Ghost Ship that had been illegally converted into live and work spaces for artists. Officials then vowed to crack down on substandard housing.

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A Jan. 9 email by another fire captain regarding the building that burned Monday reported there were no fire extinguishers in the building. Fire Lt. Steve Padgett reported in a Feb. 25 email that the address is a "known fire hazard."

"There are no fire extinguishers. Storage in the hallways. Faulty or unmaintained smoke detectors," he wrote. "This building is dangerous!"

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf told The Associated Press this week that new streamlined communications she put in place after the Ghost Ship fire to keep buildings from slipping through the cracks when problems appeared seem to have improved and worked in this case.

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She said firefighters answering a call in February at the building reported possible problems, which prompted an inspection last week.

Schaaf announced Friday she was ordering an overhaul of fire safety inspection services.

Monday's fire displaced dozens of low-income people who were recovering from addiction or had been recently homeless.

Email conversations between the Oakland fire chief, battalion chief, and the acting assistant fire marshal have been released. Click here and here to read through those documents.