Oakland - The death toll in a late-night dance party fire at a converted Oakland warehouse rose to 24 on Sunday as firefighters dug slowly through the charred remnants of the building in their search for what they expect will be more victims.
Crews in Oakland, California, are removing debris "bucket by bucket," Battalion Chief Melinda Dayton said. Firefighters worked through the night in a "mindful, thoughtful and compassionate" way.
"This will be a long and arduous process, but we want to make sure we are respecting the victims and their families and firefighter safety," Dayton said, adding that the process is "heartbreaking."
Alameda County Sheriff's Sgt Ray Kelly said on Sunday only about 20% of the building had been searched. Kelly said officials have notified the families of three of the dead.
The search for bodies is expected to continue at least 48 hours.
Fire ripped through the cluttered structure late on Friday in the building known as the "Ghost Ship." The site was an artist workspace that doubled as an illegal dwelling for a rotating cast of a dozen or more residents, those who lived there or visited often said.
Former residents said it was also a death trap with few exits, a rickety makeshift staircase, piles of driftwood and a labyrinth of electrical cords. The ground floor had five recreational vehicles and other nooks used as living spaces that were rented out to tenants, while the upstairs had space for concerts like the deadly party that drew up to 100 people on Friday night. The water and electricity were stolen from neighbours and often didn't work.
Oakland officials said they had opened an investigation just last month into the warehouse after repeated complaints from neighbours who said trash was piling up and people were illegally living in the building, which was zoned as a warehouse.