Crime & Justice

Deadly Oakland fire sends alarms through LA

Firefighters investigate the Oakland fire that claimed the lives of at least 36 people.
Firefighters investigate the Oakland fire that claimed the lives of at least 36 people.
Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

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A deadly warehouse fire in Oakland has put Los Angeles officials on edge as they contend with a much larger city with many more abandoned or underused buildings. Authorities urged the public to report any illegally-converted buildings to the city so as to avoid a similar tragedy.

"I'm absolutely freaking out about what happened in Oakland," said L.A City Council member Marqueece Harris-Dawson.  

Harris-Dawson said warehouses in L.A. are not only illegally used for parties and concerts but are turned into makeshift shelters for the city’s massive homeless population.

"Just like at a party, they‘ll try to bootleg an electricity hookup and the next thing you know you have a recipe for an inferno," Harris-Dawson said.

Los Angeles fire and building officials say they depend on building owners and members of the public to tell them about suspicious structures and activity.

A spokesman for the city's Department of Building & Safety said city inspectors do not proactively monitor any warehouses, but only respond to complaints.

"Once LADBS is notified via a complaint, these types of complaints are a high priority for us [and L.A. Fire Department] and we will diligently pursue an investigation of the alleged violation(s)," the building department's spokesman David Lara wrote by email.

A complaint about a building can be submitted by calling 311 or by logging into the LADBS.org website. 

Harris-Dawson urged concert and party organizers to seek out permits from the city. But an expert on the "DIY" and warehouse music community said that some find the permitting process to be too lengthy and pricey.

Emily Friedlander, editor-in-chief of Thump, which covers electronic music, told KPCC's The Frame, that Los Angeles has a "very large and very active" underground music scene. She said the DIY ethos means hot spots are constantly turning over.

"Places open up and become really special to their communities for a couple of years, and then they're inevitably forced to shutter," Friedlander said. "And every time one of these places get shuttered another one opens up because it's very needed."