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Recovery Efforts At Burned Oakland Warehouse Paused Over Fear Of Collapse

"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.

Firefighters have temporarily halted efforts to recover bodies from the site of a devastating fire in Oakland, Calif., citing concerns that part of the building might collapse.

The "Ghost Ship" — a warehouse that was used as an artists' collective — burned down Friday night during a dance party. It was the deadliest fire in Oakland history.

At least 36 people are dead, authorities said Monday, and they expect the number of fatalities to rise when recovery efforts resume.

Fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed said crews on Sunday night noticed that one wall was leaning several inches. "Working under a wobbly, potentially collapsing wall is extremely dangerous," she said, and work was stopped shortly after midnight local time.

She estimates that 70 percent of the warehouse has been searched so far.

Investigators believe they have located the area where the fire originated, and twisted steel beams reveal that the fire was extremely hot. But Reed wouldn't speculate about the origins of the disaster.

"We are no closer to finding a cause," she said.

Structural engineers will be working on the building on Monday morning, and the fire department hopes recovery efforts can resume in the afternoon.

With the roof of the building destroyed, the site of the fire is open to the elements — and rain is forecast for later in the week. But Reed said they won't be hurrying to try to beat the weather.

"We're going to be just as comprehensive, just as methodical and just as analytical," she said.

As member station KQED reported over the weekend, authorities in Oakland are asking for help identifying victims of the fire:

"[Alameda County Sheriff's Sgt. Ray ] Kelly said teenagers were among those killed. He added that some victims come from other countries and that there are attempts to contact families of the victims in Europe and Asia with the help of the State Department. Kelly also confirmed a sheriffs deputy's son was among the victims.

" 'This tragedy has hit very close to home for our agency,' Kelly said. 'One of our deputies that we work with lost his son in this fire, and so we're still dealing with that as we continue to deal with the other victims. This has affected us as first responders. We weren't really prepared to talk about that right now, but we're dealing with that, and our family, and our department is hurting from that.'

"The coroner's office reiterated that family and friends should preserve any objects that may contain victims' DNA, such as combs, brushes or toothbrushes for identification purposes."

At KQED Arts, Gabe Meline wrote about the "excruciating heartbreak" of the fire, and explained the role unsanctioned, DIY artist spaces such as the "Ghost Ship" play for the communities that love them.

"For the tormented queer, the bullied punk, the beaten trans, the spat-upon white trash, the disenfranchised immigrants and young people of color, these spaces are a haven of understanding in a world that doesn't understand — or can't, or doesn't seem to want to try," Meline writes.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit

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