Three people have been confirmed dead in a 4-alarm fire at a West Oakland Apartment building that occurred early Monday morning, according to Alameda County sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Ray Kelly.
Sheriff’s officials this evening are searching for a fourth victim who may have died in the fire, which was reported at about 5:40 a.m. at 2551 San Pablo Ave.
One of the victims has been identified as 64-year-old Oakland resident Edwarn Anderson, according to the Alameda County coroner’s bureau.
Four other residents — two children and two adults — were taken to hospitals, but all are expected to be released this evening, according to Oakland Fire Department Battalion Chief Erik Logan.
In a statement, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf thanked the first responders who helped douse the fire and offered her condolences to the victims.
“I want to offer my deepest sympathies to the families who have been hurt and displaced by this tragic fire and to the loved ones of the victims whose lives we know were lost,” Schaaf said.
The building housed between 80 and 100 residents, according to Logan.
When fire crews first arrived on scene this morning there was heavy smoke and flames visible, Logan said, and he did not hear any alarms going off.
Most of the residents had self-evacuated and were already on the street.
A 49-year-old woman named Angie who lived in the facility for roughly two months said she did not hear any smoke detectors or fire alarms go off during this morning’s fire.
“It was scary,” Angie said. “All I thought about was the people I love, my friends and the people I care about getting hurt.” Gilbert Jones, a 64-year-old retiree who has lived in the building for about two years, said he also didn’t hear any smoke or fire alarms going off.
Jones said he was awakened early this morning by people shouting “fire” and “get out” in the hallway outside of his second floor unit.
He opened his front door and was confronted by thick smoke and flames but was able to make his way to a fire escape at the front of the building and climb down to safety with one or two other residents.
Both Jones and Angie said they think the fire could have started in a second floor unit where a man had been burning candles but fire officials have not yet said what they think the cause is or where in the building the flames originated.
The investigation, as well as the fire department’s rescue and recovery efforts, have been hampered by the dangerously unstable condition of the building.
At one point during the fire, the third floor collapsed onto the second floor, which then collapsed down to the first floor, Logan said.
As a result, special crews were called in to shore up areas that needed to be searched and Alameda County sheriff’s deputies used cadaver dogs to search for bodies in areas where humans couldn’t reach, according to Logan.
“Our efforts have been slow and methodical due to some unstable parts of the building,” Logan said.
Crews will remain on site throughout the night and likely for much of Tuesday in order to complete the search and recovery effort.
James Cook, an attorney with John Burris Law Offices, said part of the building was used as a transitional housing facility for homeless people, people getting out of prison and people with mental health issues.
The 62-unit building is partly operated by Urojas Community Services, a faith-based organization acting as the master tenant, Cook said.
The building’s owner served the tenant with a 30-day eviction notice last week, but they were trying to stay and planning to file a breach of contract lawsuit, according to Cook.
He described the building as “virtually uninhabitable,” with exposed wires and backed up plumbing inside.
Cook said a city inspector came to look at the building recently but allegedly found no problems worthy of fines or other administrative penalties, despite the obvious and extensive damage to the interior.
“I think there were a lot of issues going on in that building,” Cook said.
Both the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army are assisting the victims.
The Red Cross has opened a shelter at the West Oakland Youth Center, located at 3233 Market St., for the victims, providing shelter, food and emotional support.
The Salvation Army is also providing meals to the victims, as well as the first responders at the scene.