Media reports from Oakland, California, say city officials knew for years that the Ghost Ship warehouse destroyed on Dec. 2 by a devastating fire that killed 36 was being illegally used as a residence. Records obtained last week by the New York Times and other publications show that city inspectors visited the artist live/work warehouse and the vacant lot next door a total of 39 times between 2004 and 2016, and that the Oakland police and fire departments were called 23 times.

Code violations

The revelations show that city officials knew and tolerated repeated code violations at the Fruitvale district warehouse, said to be just one of possibly dozens of similarly illegal live/work spaces in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The Oakland fire was the deadliest structure fire in the United States in more than 10 years, the Times said.

Prior knowledge revealed

Oakland officials avoided questions about such knowledge for weeks after the devastating fire, which apparently broke out during a musical performance on the building's second floor. All but one of the victims were visitors to the Ghost Ship warehouse, probably to attend the concert. Most of the victims were overcome by smoke when they could not escape from a building with only two entrances and no marked emergency exits. A makeshift staircase attendees used to access the warehouse's second floor collapsed during the fire, the Times said.

No citations issued

Neighbors said the warehouse frequently was the site of loud parties and, in a 2015 police report, one Oakland officer said he ordered the warehouse evacuated during an "illegal cabaret." No citations were issued to anyone at the warehouse, or to the building's owner, the police report said.

“I did not detain, handcuff or search anyone while on scene,” the officer wrote in his report.

The documents show that the dozens of inspections were in response to complaints about abandoned vehicles, rats, and garbage on the sidewalk, the Times said, yet the city made no effort to close the Ghost Ship. The warehouse was near the intersection of 31st Avenue and International Boulevard.

Oakland's fire department has come under intense criticism in the aftermath of the fire for not taking action against the warehouse, which was located just 200 yards from a firehouse, the newspaper said.