At the heart of last weekend’s tragic Oakland warehouse fire is a simple truth: People failed.
Some failed to do their jobs. Some failed to follow regulations. Others failed to exercise common sense. And now, 36 young people are dead. The real tragedy is that this was utterly avoidable.
Another likely preventable horror unfolded Wednesday in a New York City homeless shelter, where two infant girls died of burns from steam from a radiator valve that blew off. The building, owned by a notorious slumlord, has dozens of open violations. And the housing was run by a nonprofit flagged for an unsafe operation in another building last year.
In California, the eerily nicknamed Ghost Ship warehouse, home to an enclave of artists, was the source of many complaints to Oakland city agencies over the past two years. Officials admit the city was aware of its hazards, but never moved to shut it down. An inspector investigating two weeks before the fire said he couldn’t get inside. He never returned.
What he missed was a warren of crammed living spaces with no permits or fire inspections for those alterations or for its extensive electrical jerry-rigging. There was no sign of sprinklers or smoke alarms. There were only two exits, and the only way up to the second floor — where dozens of people were attending an electronic dance party when the fire broke out — was a makeshift stairway of wooden pallets quickly destroyed by the blaze, trapping partygoers.
People grumble about overregulation and code enforcement. But the Ghost Ship fire underscores the importance of getting that right, whether it’s at a ramshackle warehouse, an illegally converted home stuffed with college students, or a homeless shelter. Safety means building owners following rules, and municipalities properly staffing fire marshal offices and making sure codes are enforced. — The editorial board