Death Toll in Deadly Warehouse Fire Rises to 30 as Search Goes On

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Melinda Drayton, a battalion chief with the Oakland Fire Department, addressing the news media on Sunday. Credit Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

OAKLAND, Calif. — Firefighters picking through the ruins of a warehouse here found more bodies overnight, bringing to 30 the death toll from a fire that ripped through a makeshift nightclub on Friday. The search of the rest of the building could take days, officials said at a news conference on Sunday.

“We will confirm at this time that we have 30 victims,” Sgt. Ray Kelly of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office said.

In one of the deadliest structure fires in the United States in the last decade, partygoers at the two-story converted warehouse were asphyxiated on Friday night by thick black fumes, which poured from the building’s windows for several hours. Survivors stood across the street in a Wendy’s parking lot, watching firefighters try to put out the blaze and rescue those inside.

“We will be here for days and days to come,” Sergeant Kelly said.

Melinda Drayton, battalion chief for the Oakland Fire Department, said rescue workers had spent the night methodically sifting through the charred warehouse, taking rubble to a lot across the street where it was hauled away “literally bucket by bucket.” The building’s roof had collapsed, and the site was a dangerous scene of debris, beams and other wreckage.

Excavators and other heavy construction equipment had been brought in to help with the search, Sergeant Kelly said.

“It was quiet, it was heartbreaking,” Chief Drayton said of the search, in which firefighters had been able to gain access to only about 20 percent of the building. She said she did not believe the workers had come close to finding where the fire started.

Chief Drayton was visibly upset during the news conference as she described the emotional and physical difficulty of the long night. She said the search would be a “long and arduous process.” A 19-year veteran of the Oakland Fire Department, she said the fire was the most deadly conflagration in the history of the department that she was aware of.

She said that it could take up to several days to search the rambling, structurally insecure warehouse, while ensuring the safety of emergency personnel. The building, which they described as “a labyrinth of artist studios,” had been under investigation for several months. Officials said escape from the building, which had only two exits, might have been complicated because the first and second floors were linked by an ad hoc staircase made of wooden pallets.

On Sunday, the authorities said that three families of victims had been notified, but that other names would be released “in the coming hours.” On Saturday afternoon, a list of those missing, compiled by friends and family, had grown to about 35 people.

Firefighters arrived just before midnight Friday, and the fire was still smoldering more than 12 hours later.

One survivor, Aja Archuleta, 29, a musician, was scheduled to perform at the electronic music party with her synthesizers and drum machines around 1 a.m. and was working at the door when the fire broke out around 11 or 11:15 p.m.

“There were two people on the first level who had spotted a small fire that was growing quickly,” she said. “It was a very quick and chaotic build, from a little bit of chaos to a lot of chaos.”

She added, “I have lost 20 friends in the past 24 hours.”

Family members of the missing expressed anguish over spending hours waiting to know if their relatives were inside.

Daniel Vega, 36, said he was “infuriated” waiting to hear news about his 22-year-old brother, Alex Vega, who had not answered his phone Saturday. Mr. Vega said he had heard from a friend that his brother was at the party.

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