Oakland, Calif., officials have been ordered to clean up debris from December's Ghost Ship fire that was dumped improperly on the shore of San Francisco Bay in the days after the horrific fire that killed 36 partygoers in California's worst structure fire since the 1906 earthquake.

State water regulators are insisting that the debris be cleaned up or at least covered to reduce the chance of it contaminating the bay, a waterway protected by strict environmental laws. The order was issued by the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board after another regulator, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, said the Oakport Street site contained no environmental hazards.

Removed from site

The material was cleared of hazardous waste and checked for evidentiary value by federal and local fire investigators before it was dumped near San Leandro, according to the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper. The charred debris was removed from the scene at 31st Avenue and International Boulevard in the city's Fruitvale district to allow better access to first responders and criminal investigators at the burned structure.

Dale Browner of the water quality board's watershed division told the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper that the agency could not tell for sure whether the debris posed any environmental hazard if it got washed into the bay by future rainstorms. The dumpsite is hundreds of feet downhill from San Leandro Bay.

“The debris was fairly clean debris in the first place,” Browner said. “The material was taken in several different directions: hazardous material was taken off and dealt with, evidence was taken in another direction and this is the debris that was not evidence, not hazardous waste, just sort of in the way."

Temporary measure

But city officials promised that the dumping was only temporary until the material could be moved to a proper landfill, Browner said “I’ve asked them to do something about it,” he told the newspaper.

Oakland spokesman Harry Hamilton said the city decided to dump the debris at Oakport Street and two other sites because they were "available and appropriate," the newspaper said.

The 36 who died in the Dec. 2 fire were primarily young people attending a music performance at the Ghost Ship warehouse, which had been converted into an unauthorized live/work residence several years ago.

The warehouse, which was built in the 1930s as a milk bottling plant, was zoned for commercial use only, the newspaper said.

The Alameda County District Attorney's Office is conducting an investigation into the fire to determine if criminal charges are warranted, the newspaper said.