Massive fire burns community arts space in Oakland

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Oakland fire investigators now think the three-alarm blaze that tore through an artists' workspace in the Fruitvale District was probably sparked accidentally. The flames burned so hot that some who lived nearby were forced to evacuate.

At its height, the flames were eating through the m0xy Artists Collective at East 11th St and 23rd Avenue so fast that neighbors could see it and feel it.

"Flames were shooting up high. The building was so red, and sitting on my porch, I could feel the heat on my face," said neighbor Cindy Vellarde.

Cindy's husband Richard is superintendent of the building, and they live about 20 yards away. He did not want to be interviewed, but Cindy says he got a phone call just after 6 this morning telling him the warehouse was on fire.

"So my husband runs across the street with no shoes on, he runs in there and hollers for everybody to get out because it's on fire."

James Phillips works at a cold storage business across the street and made the first call to 911.

"We smelled something that was burning and we looked out the door and immediately saw the fire through the windows in the building."

The early notice ensured that the half dozen people inside escaped without injury. Micah was one of them. He says while fleeing he couldn't help thinking of the deadly fire at the Ghostship artists collective that claimed 36 lives.

"The trauma from that strikes a chord with us here."

Fire destroyed the front third of the warehouse, the rest was saved, and some artists were allowed back into the undamaged portion long enough to grab some belongings.

The artists say, unlike Ghostship, no one lived inside the m0xy Collective. Instead, more than 30 businesses were operating, seven of them were lost. It could have been worse, some of the propane and welding tanks inside could have exploded, but did not.

"No fatalities, no one was living here. A very clean, very well-maintained workspace where artists are able to create some beautiful artwork that was lost," according to Oakland Fire Battalion Chief James Bowron.

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