The Oakland warehouse where at least 25 people died during a late-night rave was home to an artist collective that describes itself as an “unprecedented fusion of earth home bomb bunker helter-skelter spelunker shelter.” The sprawling building is now also being described as a “death trap” and a “tinderbox” by friends and family of the deceased, posters on the group’s Facebook page, and the local community.
The warehouse commune’s leader, Derick Alemany, who goes by the name “Derick Ion” on Facebook, was apparently living in the Oakland Ghost Ship, as it was known, with his wife and three children, who were not at the collective when it went up in flames (which he noted in a tone-deaf Facebook post early Saturday morning).
And while he used the space to store his “works,” neither he nor the warehouse’s owners apparently ever outfitted the warehouse with sprinklers, smoke detectors or fire safety equipment, according to social media users on the Ghost Ship’s event page.
Local media says that both the owner, Chor N. Ng, and Ghost Ship founder Derick Ion were recently warned by fire safety officials that the warehouse was not up to code and was at risk for a fire like the one that happened late Friday night.
Former Ghost Ship employees and artists say Ion was told repeatedly about fire hazards, and that he regularly failed to secure the necessary permits or inspections for events held at the 10,000-square-foot space. Social media posts clearly show that the space was a “tinderbox” and a “rabbit warren,” packed to the ceiling with salvaged materials.
— Martin Ortiz (@newsortiz) December 3, 2016
A blight complaint was filed on November 14 against the warehouse, and trash from the “collective” had overflowed onto local streets – it was the third such complaint.
— Natasha Zouves ABC7 (@NatashaABC7) December 3, 2016
A disagreement has broken out on social media as to whether Ion himself, or the absent owner, was ultimately responsible for what local law enforcement is saying is likely an accidental blaze—and who knew what, when.
A Yelp post from a year ago making its rounds on Twitter says that the manager himself was ignorant to the possibility of an accident and aggressive towards people who complained about the mess.
Neighbors say that residents of the warehouse stole electricity from neighboring buildings, that at least one of the staircases was hastily constructed from shipping pallets, that mobile homes were parked inside, and that Ion instructed his “tenants” and sub-lessors to keep quiet about living in the building.
But the warehouse owner, Ng, apparently did not take safety precautions to ensure safety for those leasing the space. The owner’s daughter claimed to the LA Times that the space was rented as an art studio and that they did not know anyone was living there. “They confirmed multiple times. They said sometimes some people worked through the night, but that is all,” she told media.
Community members claim that the Ng family looked the other way—that at least 10 people were camped out at any given time, and that the owner came once a month to collect rent and never asked any questions.
But while Ion and his wife are prodigious social media posters, they’re keeping mum for now, and looking for alternative housing for themselves and their three children. “I’m not going to speak to anybody about that kind of stuff,” Ion’s wife said. “I’m going to have to speak to my lawyers before I answer any questions.”