Oakland: Two dead, dozens displaced from apartments in fire

OAKLAND — Two people are dead and dozens of people were left without a home after a fire ravaged an apartment building early Saturday in West Oakland, a fire official said.

The two adult victims were found dead inside one unit of the building and about 30 others have been displaced, Oakland fire Battalion Chief Geoff Hunter said. The fire broke out about 3 a.m. at a former armory now divided into live/work units in two separate buildings, stretching from 669 and 671 24th St. to 674 23rd St., between San Pablo Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Hunter said.

As the fire grew to a three-alarm blaze, it quickly spread through the roof, which the buildings share, Hunter said. Fire crews also had trouble accessing the fire, he said. Firefighters had the fire under control at 4:10 a.m.

The brick building is home to activists and artists and to AK Press and 1984 Printing, which are both located on the first-floor, 23rd Street side of the building. Both companies suffered significant water damage to their book collections and to the businesses. Employees of AK Press and 1984 Printing were busy Saturday morning pushing water out with brooms.


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Weeks Later, Fatal Fire in West Oakland Still Hurts


Oakland's deadliest fire in nearly three years continues to have an impact on the friends of the two artists who died in the blaze, dozens of displaced residents, and several businesses that have been forced to shut down for weeks.

Investigators believe the March 21 three-alarm blaze at 669 24th St. in West Oakland was probably caused accidentally, after one of the men found dead in the unit where the fire started fell asleep while smoking, said Oakland Deputy Fire Chief Darin White.

Fire officials want to know if one of the men was intoxicated. "We do believe it's possible that alcohol or other drugs could have played a part in the individuals' inability to find themselves able to remove themselves from the situation," White said in an interview.

The fire department got word of the blaze at around 3 a.m. but did not see smoke or fire when they arrived minutes later. However, as crews searched the two-story brick building, a smoke alarm began to sound and smoke started coming out the top of the door leading to Apartment D on the second floor, White said.

Firefighters broke into the unit and "encountered an apartment charged with black smoke all the way to the floor," White said. "Heavy flame was coming from the back of the apartment."


Letona was a digital videographer. "His main passion was cinema," said Ramos, who organized an online fundraising campaign to pay for a recent memorial. Some of his work can be seen on his website, davislatona.wordpress.com.

Thomas, the second victim, had artwork featured in a number of exhibitions and collections in Oakland and San Francisco over the last six years, including the McLoughlin Gallery in Union Square.

@TedrickG  tgoldberg@kqed.org