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9 dead in US party fire

OAKLAND, California – Firefighters struggled to get to bodies in the rubble Saturday after a fire tore through a converted Oakland warehouse during a late-night electronic music party, killing at least nine people and making the charred structure unsafe for emergency crews to enter.

Officials said at least two dozen more were missing in the rubble of the building.

Officials described the scene inside the warehouse, which had been illegally converted into artist studios, as a death trap that made it impossible for many partygoers to escape the Friday night fire. And a day later, the maze of debris and devastation was complicating efforts to extract the bodies.

“It was just a labyrinth of little areas. We knew people were in there, and we were trying to get them out. But it was just a labyrinth,” Oakland deputy fire chief Mark Hoffmann told reporters Saturday afternoon.

He said that firefighters had to stop their search and rescue operation Saturday afternoon for safety reasons and shore up the structure, but they expected to resume later in the day. The building’s roof had collapsed into the second floor, which in places fell to the bottom floor.

Oakland officials said they had opened an investigation just last month into the warehouse after numerous complaints filed by neighbors who said trash was piling up outside the property and people were illegally living in the building, which was zoned as a warehouse.

Darin Ranelletti, of the Oakland Planning Department, said the city opened an investigation November 13 and an investigator went to the premises on November 17 but could not get inside the building. The city has not confirmed people were living inside.

One survivor, however, said that 18 artists lived inside the warehouse.

Bob Mule said he was one of the artists living in the collective space. He told KGO-TV that he and another person smelled smoke and spotted the fire in a back corner and started yelling.

“The fire went up really, really, really quickly,” he said.

Mule said he tried to help someone who had an injured ankle but couldn’t. “There was a lot of stuff in the way, the flames were too much,” Mule said, trailing off. “I hope, I hope he’s OK.” (AP)

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