Northwest Asian Weekly
It was the deadliest structure fire in the United States in 13 years.
On Dec. 2, up to 100 people were at a dance party at an Oakland, Calif. warehouse — known as the “Ghost Ship” — when the fire broke out, killing 36 people.
The warehouse had been turned into artists’ studios and illegal living spaces.
Investigators haven’t identified the cause of the fire, but they said it started around 11:30 p.m. in the rear of the building. They ruled out a refrigerator as the cause, but were still looking at electrical systems as possible sources.
There were no fire alarms, no sprinklers, and the two stairways from the second-floor party did not lead to the building’s only two exits.
The building, owned by Chor N. Ng, was permitted only as a warehouse and the city had opened an investigation last month after neighbors complained about trash piling up and people living inside of it. An investigation into the fire could lead to criminal charges as serious as murder, prosecutors said.
Property records show Ng owns several properties in Oakland’s Chinatown. She bought the building that burned in 1988, as well as an adjacent lot to the south and an adjacent building to the north.
The city has spent years fining Ng for what it calls “nuisance or substandard or hazardous or injurious” conditions at the lot south of the warehouse and at the building to the north.
Between 2005 and 2014, Ng paid $26,570.20 in “code enforcement” fees for the lot next to the Ghost Ship.
A beauty salon owner, Griselda Ceja, rented space from the Ng family for 20 years and had numerous problems relating to electricity in the building, which is adjacent to the Ghost Ship. “She never took care of the building,” Ms. Ceja told the New York Times. “We were scared. We were all scared.” She also says the salon had a blocked emergency exit that was never addressed, and she has since moved her business.
Other tenants, including an owner at Sum Yee Pastry in Chinatown, said he had no troubles with his building or the Ngs.
Neither Ng, nor her daughter Eva, who is known to help her mother manage these properties, have spoken publicly since Eva Ng gave a statement the day after the fire saying that as far as they were concerned, no one was living in the Ghost Ship space.
Questions have arisen, however, regarding how much the Ngs were aware of the construction that occurred inside the warehouse between 2013 and 2016, and whether they had set foot inside to see the substandard wiring and staircase made of wooden pallets.
The San Francisco Chronicle visited several other properties around Chinatown that are owned by the Ngs.
Those tenants describe Chor Ng as an unobtrusive landlady, who came to collect rent in a white Mercedes-Benz, and was generally “hands-off” otherwise.
One tenant who runs a clothing store in a warehouse next door to the Ghost Ship said the Ng family got in touch right after the fire to say they would help them deal with water damage to their property and help them reopen.
That tenant, Lorena Dominguez, told the Chronicle, “We’ve been here 25 years, and if they were bad landlords, we would have known.”