The death toll in a fire that devastated a California loft building during a weekend dance party has climbed to 30 people.
The number is likely to rise further as recovery teams push deeper into the charred ruin, Reuters reports, citing authorities.
Oakland firefighters found the remains of 30 victims as they sifted through the debris-filled shell of the two-story converted warehouse in Oakland being used by an artists’ collective.
The cause of the fire was still undetermined, officials said. Authorities said they did not suspect arson but investigators want to find out if the building had a history of code violations.
“That is an astronomical number,” Sgt. Ray Kelly, a spokesman for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, said. “We’re still not done.”
The blaze, which erupted about 11:30 p.m. local times on Saturday, already ranks as the deadliest in the United States since 100 people perished in a 2003 Rhode Island nightclub fire.
Chris Nechodom, 30, said he arrived early at the party, which featured electronic dance music, and was on the ground floor when he saw flames race across the ceiling.
As he left, he heard a loud noise and saw a huge plume of thick black smoke billowing out.
“It blew out maybe 10 feet out of the entrance. After that I saw a few more people crawl out,” he said.
Nechodom was surprised the number of victims was so high, given the relatively small size of the gathering. “It sounds like more people got stuck than got out,” he said.
He said he was unsure how many people were inside when the fire started. Many of the victims were believed to be in their 20s and 30s.
Family members were asked to preserve items that might contain DNA of the victims, including combs, toothbrushes and hair brushes, to help with identification.
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