OAKLAND — Fire crews in California on Sunday were searching the charred remains of a warehouse gutted by a blaze during a rave party, with officials saying the death toll could reach 40. Relatives of dozens of people missing in the Friday night blaze in Oakland near San Francisco endured an anxious wait for news. Nine people have been confirmed dead so far. The converted two-story warehouse was used by artists as a living and work space but had no license for this, officials said, nor for the electronic dance party under way when the blaze broke out. The cause of the fire was not yet known. Firefighters said the building seemed to have no sprinklers or smoke detectors.
Orange flames shot through the roof as the fire burned for hours and thick smoke billowed into the sky. The roof collapsed onto the second floor, which officials said was connected to the ground floor only by a makeshift system of wooden pallets. Firefighters had to withdraw from the building to shore it up when part of the fragile structure began to move. Sergeant Ray Kelly of the Alameda County Sheriff’s department said Saturday evening that about two dozen people who were reported missing had been located. But at least two dozen more remain missing, he said. “We don’t know how far into the process we are, because we don’t absolutely have a number of people that we know are deceased inside of there,” Kelly said. “There’s still a lot of the building that needs to be searched,” Fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed said. An official at the sheriff’s office who declined to be named said early Sunday the death toll could rise to 40 or higher. Most of those who perished in the blaze that started about 11:30 p.m. Friday were thought to have died on the upper floor of the warehouse known as the Oakland Ghost Ship, Reed said. “It must have been a very fast-moving fire,” she added. The electronic dance music party was attended by an estimated 50 to 100 people.