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Expert: Ghost Ship blaze could have happened here in Southern California




"Ghost Ship," a warehouse and artist's space in the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland, Calif., burned down on Friday. It was the deadliest fire in Oakland history.
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The fire at Ghost Ship was a tragedy that could have also happened here.

"I believe it can," says Bill Murphy, a former fire marshal and current instructor at the Rio Hondo Fire Academy, says it is easy to find warehouses like Ghost Ship in LA: "I don't believe that building or the use of it is particularly unique to San Francisco or the Bay Area. There are plenty of areas in Southern California where there are similar situations." Ghost Ship wasn't what he calls a "legally permitted and inspected occupancy," so there were many uncontrolled life-threatening hazards.

When living in permitted, regularly inspected buildings, residents can expect smoke detectors, alarms, clear exits, sprinkler systems, etc. But in artist communes like Ghost Ship, Murphy wonders if it would have been on the inspectors' radar, "From everything I've heard so far, this was an occupancy that was not permitted. So then you'd be in some kind of nuisance enforcement - which they had been doing over the years, due to public complaints and requests for inspections." 

Murphy says it is difficult but not impossible to inspect these buildings. But it will require money, manpower, and new priorities. "You would need multiple agencies, working simultaneously to affect some type of change [in safety] ... in a timely manner, and through a legal process."

It's an open question whether officials have the political will to persevere, but Murphy says "the skills and knowledge are there. In the fire prevention community: absolutely. Code writing:  absolutely the skills are there. It's just putting it together in a reasonable, thoughtful approach to get to some sort of solution."