Mum, I'm dying: Details emerge of final moments of California blaze victims

Recovery teams working along a wall at the scene of the fatal warehouse fire in Oakland, California, US, on Dec 6, 2016.
Recovery teams working along a wall at the scene of the fatal warehouse fire in Oakland, California, US, on Dec 6, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Details emerged on Tuesday (Dec 6) of desperate text messages sent by some of the 36 victims of the California warehouse fire, as the authorities searched for clues as to what caused the blaze.

Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern told reporters that one mother shared a text message she had received from her daughter as the tragedy unfolded late Friday.

"Mum, I'm dying," the message said.

Ahern said another two victims appeared to be hugging when found by firefighters.

Sergeant Ray Kelly, spokesman for the sheriff's department, said deputies had spoken at length with families of the victims about their loved ones' harrowing final moments.

"We've had a lot of conversations with family members, very intimate conversations about the last moments that they may have talked to their child or their loved one and those are things that will probably (stay) with us for the rest of our lives," he told local television.

 

"Kids were texting their parents and telling them that they loved them and that they were going to die."

The authorities believe some of the victims were unable to flee the inferno at the warehouse in Oakland known as the "Ghost Ship" because of metal security bars on the windows that trapped them inside.

The warehouse had been converted into an artists' collective and was hosting a rave party when the fire broke out, ripping through the building within minutes. Between 50 and 100 people were attending the party.

Officials said late on Tuesday after nearly completing their sweep of the building that they believe the final death toll will stand at 36. They said all but one of the victims had been identified.

One of the casualties was the 17-year-old son of a sheriff's deputy. The others were all in their 20s and 30s and included artists, musicians, an elementary school teacher, a poet and a film-maker.

The manager of the warehouse said on Tuesday he was sorry for the tragedy, but that he did not believe he should be held accountable.

"I'm only here to say one thing, I'm incredibly sorry," Mr Derick Ion Almena told NBC television. He said he normally slept in the building along with his three children, but they had checked into a hotel while the party was taking place.

"I signed a lease. I got a building that was to city standards supposedly," he added.

Oakland city officials said they had received three complaints about safety conditions in the building before the blaze and would be releasing 30 years' worth of public records related to the warehouse.

On Monday, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley told reporters her office had launched an investigation to determine whether anyone was criminally liable.

"The range of charges could be murder all the way to involuntary manslaughter," she said.

Survivors have spoken of the speed with which the fire spread through the warehouse, raising questions as to whether the building was properly equipped with sprinklers or smoke detectors.

Officials believe the blaze started at the back of the building and there was speculation a faulty refrigerator or other electrical items could be the cause.

Oakland, a city of 420,000 that abuts San Francisco, is home to a large population of professionals driven from the nearby tech hub by sky-high rent.

Local officials declared a state of emergency on Tuesday in relation to the fire in order to receive federal and local funding to cover the cost of the massive recovery effort.