Oakland warehouse operator sparks outrage for mourning loss of venue — not victims

The operator of the converted warehouse in Oakland, Calif., where a fire broke out during a dance party on Friday night, killing at least 33 people, has been widely criticized over his initial response to the tragedy.

“Everything I worked so hard for is gone,” Derick Ion Almena wrote in a Facebook post early Saturday morning. “Blessed that my children and Micah were at a hotel safe and sound … it’s as if I have awoken from a dream filled with opulence and hope … to be standing now in poverty of self worth.”

Almena’s post was met with immediate backlash from Facebook users for omitting any mention of the victims.

“Not one mention of the people burned to death in your death trap building,” one wrote. “You are a real piece of work.”

“All you worked on? What about those who have died?” wrote another. “I lost two very close and dear friends in the fire and all you seem to care about is whatever material stuff you owned, which can be replaced unless the lives your death trap has taken.”

Derick Ion Almena (Facebook)
Derick Ion Almena (Facebook)

“Lawyer up, buddy,” another comment read. “You’re going to need it.”

A Facebook message to Almena was not immediately returned.

Almena's initial response to the fire. (Facebook)
Almena’s initial response to the fire. (Facebook)

Officials expect the death toll to rise, as just 20 percent of the charred remains of the 4,000-square-foot building, known as the “Ghost Ship,” have been searched.

Former tenants described the space to the Associated Press as a tinderbox “with few exits, a rickety makeshift staircase, piles of driftwood and a labyrinth of electrical cords.”

A Tumblr page with photos taken inside the warehouse prior to the blaze seems to confirm that description.

“If you were not familiar with the building and the way that it was, if you were going there for a party, you wouldn’t be aware of the maze that you have to go through to get out,” said Danielle Boudreaux, a former friend of Almena’s, told the AP.

Slideshow: Fatal warehouse fire in Oakland >>>

“It was just a labyrinth of little areas,” Oakland Fire Department operations chief Mark Hoffmann told reporters.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Almena lived on the second floor of the warehouse with his wife, Micah Allison, and children, who were staying at a hotel during the Friday event.

Allison declined to talk about conditions at the warehouse in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, including whether there was a sprinkler system or if people lived there.

“I’m not going to speak to anybody about that kind of stuff,” Allison said. “I’m going to have to speak to my lawyers before I answer any questions.”

Darin Ranelletti, interim director of the city’s planning and building department, told the paper that the warehouse had been under investigation to determine whether it was being illegally used for housing.

“We had reports that people were living there, but we’re still trying to confirm them,” Ranelletti said.

The daughter of the warehouse’s owner said that the building was leased for studio space — and not for living.

“Nobody lived there,” Eva Ng told the Los Angeles Times. “It was an art collective.”

Ng said she had asked her leaseholders about reports of people living there but had been reassured no one was.

“They said sometimes some people worked through the night,” she said. “But that is all.”

According to Oakland Alameda County court records, Almena was arrested in mid-January and spent two days in jail for receiving stolen property. On Jan. 25, he pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge and was sentenced to 36 months’ probation.

In a Facebook post on Aug. 30, Almena invited fellow artists to the Ghost Ship, which he had also called “Satya Yuga.”

“Satya Yuga once again spins the riddle trick of twisted wood and bone,” he wrote. “The living offering of our sacred seat, new fusions of unprecedented beauty. Shadowed and familiar … Our Ghost Ship. In this time, crashed upon the shore of Babylon. Resurrected as a tattered temple tethered to impossible promises and broken truths … an invitation to seduce wandering lovers and desperate characters. Come sit with us. Sip Chai with us. As honored guests. And friends. To witness our fantastic and tender existence.”