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Flags flying at half-staff at county facilities in honor of victims of Oakland warehouse fire

'Entire community grieving over this unspeakable tragedy' -- County Supervisor Scott Haggerty

Flags are flying at half-staff at all Alameda County facilities in honor of the dozens of people who died in a warehouse fire in Oakland last Friday night.

Alameda County Board of Supervisors president Scott Haggerty ordered the flags to be lowered following Friday's tragic fire in which at least 36 people died at a party held at a warehouse at 1305 31st Ave. in Oakland's Fruitvale district.

"Our entire community is grieving over this unspeakable tragedy," Haggerty said in a statement. "On behalf of Alameda County, I extend my condolences to the many people directly affected by this devastating fire."

Haggerty thanked the first responders from several agencies who responded to the scene. He said he will also recommend that the county reactivate its Disaster Relief Fund to enable county employees and community members to make cash or online donations to victims of the fire.

The county's Disaster Relief Fund was initially established following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and has been reactivated for several tragedies worldwide, including Hurricane Katrina in 2005, earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, and the mass shooting in June at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern said three of the victims who died were from out of the country, one each from Finland, Korea and Guatemala, Ahern said.

County sheriff Sgt. Ray Kelly said one of the other victims is the son of a sheriff's deputy but he said the family doesn't want his name to be released at this time and is asking for privacy.

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley said a criminal investigation team is looking into the fire and is headed by a deputy district attorney with expertise in land and property use.

"It's too early to speculate" on possible charges, O'Malley said, but she said possible charges could range from murder to involuntary manslaughter if the evidence warrants.

She said, "We've been getting a lot of phone calls giving us information and we need to follow up on those leads."

O'Malley said her investigators have begun interviewing people she described as "operators" of the "Ghost Ship" but she declined to say if that

includes chief operator Derick Ion Almena.

O'Malley said a hotline where people can provide additional information is available at (877) 288-2882, while victims and their families can seek support at (510) 272-6180.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf declined to comment on whether local officials should have done more to investigate potential wrongdoing at the warehouse, saying, "In the days and weeks ahead we'll have many conversations about what we've learned and how we move forward."

Schaaf said, "We have all hands on deck" and at this time the city's priority is working with and comforting the families of the fire victims.

Schaaf said she's limited in what she can say because a criminal investigation is now under way.

She added: "We would not want to compromise the District Attorney's ability to hold people responsible for this potential atrocity."

According to court records, on Jan. 13, 2015, Almena, 46, was arrested on suspicion of felony possession of stolen property at the warehouse. According a probable cause statement, a woman said she flagged down a patrolling sheriff's deputy and said Almena had stolen her trailer and she had tracked it to the 31st Avenue site.

The woman, who claimed Almena was her former tenant, performed a citizen's arrest of Almena and Deputy Jeremy Lucha arrested him and booked him into the Glenn Dyer Jail in downtown Oakland.

Lucha said in his report that Almena confessed to having the trailer "for about a week."

District Attorney officials couldn't be reached for comment on how Almena's case was resolved.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News, contributed to this report.

— Bay City News Service

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