Oakland warehouse fire victims texted loved ones goodbye

Oakland warehouse fire victims texted loved ones goodbye
Tex Allen, facing camera, offers hugs for mourners during a vigil in memory of victims of the warehouse fire at Lake Merritt. Pic: AP

Heartbreaking reports have emerged of the last moments of some of the victims of the Oakland warehouse fire.

Some people managed to text loved ones goodbye and "I love you" before they died in the blaze that claimed three dozen lives, officials said.

The painful and exhaustive search for those killed in the fire - the most lethal building blaze in the US for more than a decade - appears to be coming to a close.

Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern said that he did not believe there would be any additional bodies found.

But he cautioned that it was "impossible to be absolutely positive" about the number killed until the entire recovery effort is complete. Authorities had gone through about three-quarters of the building by late Monday.

Officials said they would turn next to investigating the fire, which erupted late Friday during a dance party. It is unclear how it started. The district attorney warned of possible murder charges as she determines whether there were any crimes linked to the blaze.

"We owe it to the community and those who perished in this fire, and those who survived the fire to be methodical, to be thorough, and to take the amount of time it takes to be able to look at every piece of potential evidence," Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley said.

Alameda County sheriff's spokesman Sgt Ray Kelly said that some of the victims texted relatives, saying "I'm going to die," and "I love you".

Rescue crews found bodies of people "protecting each other, holding each other," Sgt Kelly said.

On Monday night, hundreds of people holding candles and flowers honoured those who died in the fire at a vigil at Oakland's Lake Merritt.

Those in the crowd embraced each other or held up candles as they said aloud the names of people they lost in the blaze.

Several people in the crowd held signs offering "free hugs".

Terry Ewing learned on Monday what he already knew in his heart: His girlfriend, Ara Jo, was among the dead in the fire that broke out during an underground dance party at a building known as the Ghost Ship.

Earlier, Mr Ewing said Jo's friends and family had already started talking about the vibrant 29-year-old Oakland artist in the past tense, but needed confirmation. He went through photographs as he waited. Friends remembered her as someone who could fit in anywhere, he said.

Judy Hough, left, and her husband Brian, center, during a vigil at Lake Merritt holding a picture of their son Travis, who died in the warehouse fire. Pic: AP
Judy Hough, left, and her husband Brian, center, during a vigil at Lake Merritt holding a picture of their son Travis, who died in the warehouse fire. Pic: AP

"If you take her somewhere, she'll make friends with the surly punks in the corner as well as the elderly grandparents," he said.

Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf said city officials are putting together a record of what they knew about the property.

Authorities have identified 22 victims and notified their families, city officials said.

An additional 11 victims have been tentatively identified, and three victims need "scientific identification", they said.

Investigators said they believe they have located the section of the building where the fire started, but the cause remains unknown.

AP

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