Oakland Mourns Victims, Seeks Answers in Apartment Fire That Killed 4

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Massive blaze Monday morning in apartment building at 2551 San Pablo Ave. in Oakland. Photo Courtesy of NBC Bay Area.

Oaklanders are in mourning and seeking answers in the wake of a fire that destroyed a three-story transitional housing building at 2551 San Pablo Ave. in West Oakland, where four people died Monday, leaving 80 homeless, including many children.

Authorities as of mid-week had identified two victims, Edwarn Anderson, 64, and Cassandra Robertson, 50. Aid workers seeking help for the displaced residents. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Anderson, known as the deacon, was considered by many of the residents to be a very helpful man who went out of his way to aid people in the building, unplugging backed-up toilets, painting the walls or dealing with other problems.

Cassandra Robertson

According to reports, Robertson moved to the Bay Area from New Orleans at age 19, She returned to Louisiana about four years ago, but recently came back to the Bay Area.

Many of those displaced by the fire lost all their possessions and are staying in a shelter. In an outpouring of support, local residents are donating clothes and other items to aid survivors of the fire.

According to Pastor Debra Avery of the First Presbyterian Church of Oakland, as of Wednesday evening, donations are requested for new and barely used adult clothes. The need at the shelter now is especially for children’s school clothing (all sizes) and school supplies, she said.

Oakland is a generous and supportive community that I know will rally around these residents – many of whom are among the most vulnerable in our community. Now more than ever they need our assistance,” said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.

Donations should be delivered to two locations: from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Brothers Barbershop at 1498-7th St.: and from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Word Assembly Church, 767 Pine St.
Questions continue to be raised about what the city could have been done to prevent the fire.

In an interview with the Associated Press this week, Mayor Schaaf said the city has improved its enforcement efforts involving dangerous buildings following the Ghostship warehouse fire in which 36 people died in December 2016.

In the wake the warehouse fire, she had pledged to improve internal communications between city departments after learning that city officials and agencies were told of a safety problem at the warehouse but it was not inspected.

Schaaf said firefighters answering a call in February at San Pablo residence had reported possible problems, prompting an inspection last Friday that found deficient sprinklers, alarms and smoke detectors.

She said city officials lacked the authority to immediately shutter the apartments because they are required to give the owner time to fix the problems, according to AP.

On Feb. 23, the city sent a notice of violation to the owner of the building after someone complained about the building, saying there was a “large amount of trash and debris, building materials, (and) furniture in back of property.”

But the building was not inspected until last Friday, March 24.

According to the East Bay Times, the inspector found 11 severe fire hazards, including extension cords being used instead of wall outlets. His report said that fire extinguishers, emergency lighting and marked exits must be maintained and provided throughout the building, and smoke detectors in each unit.

The inspector also demanded immediate service and certification of the fire alarm system and fire sprinkler system, but he didn’t order the residential building, evacuated and closed.

He did not “order the building owner to place a person on ‘fire watch’ to patrol the structure until repairs were made, as state law allows, the East Bay Times said.

The fire took place three days later.

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