Oakland Fire: 3 dead, multiple injuries in 4-alarm blaze

OAKLAND, Calif. -- At least three people died and several others suffered from smoke inhalation in a four-alarm fire at a West Oakland building that had previous inspection violations, according to Oakland officials.

Seven people were rescued from the massive fire that was reported around 5:30 a.m. at 2551 San Pablo Ave.

The building housed 86 tenants, according to Battalion Chief Erik Logan.

The Coroner's office has now identified one of the three victims killed in the fire.

Edwarn Anderson, 64, died inside the property, officials said.

The property had been the target of building department investigations and citations since 2010, when the city allowed the owner to convert the structure into transitional housing for recovering drug addicts, people struggling with homelessness and others, records show.

Dazed residents who escaped the fire said they were awakened by neighbors' screams and the popping of hot windows - not fire alarms.

Residents also said they didn't see or feel any sprinklers as they fled the three-story structure.

"There were no sprinklers or fire extinguishers," said Curtis Robinson, 52, who had to leave his wheelchair behind in his first floor room in the scramble to escape.

The cause of the blaze had not yet been determined.

In December, Oakland became the site of the deadliest structure fire in the U.S. in more than a decade when three dozen partygoers perished at a warehouse fire. Monday's fire was about 5 miles from where the warehouse fire took place.

The blaze raised questions about the use of some buildings in the city for residences amid a shortage of affordable housing in the San Francisco Bay Area.

City records on the building that burned Monday show there was an open investigation into complaints about electrical issues, pests and lack of heat.

On March 6, a building inspector verified a violation involving deferred maintenance, and the building owner was cited on March 2 for large amounts of trash and debris stacked around the property.

Residents said the debris was recently removed, but other problems persisted.

The fire department did not immediately respond to a request Monday involving records on alarms, sprinklers and fire extinguishers at the building.

An attorney for Urojas Community Services, which rents the first two floors of the three-story structure for the transitional housing, said the landlord had been trying to evict the nonprofit organization since the devastating warehouse fire in December.

Lawyer James Cook said he last spoke with building owner Keith Kim on Friday. Kim did not immediately return a request for comment.

Urojas Community Center assists about 60 people with transitional housing and services, Cook said. He said he had complained to the city about clogged toilets and disgusting bathrooms, exposed wires and water an inch thick on the ground floor.

Residents on Monday also echoed concerns about deplorable living conditions, including nearly unpassable hallways filled with trash, tattered furniture and other debris.

"At the least the rats are gone, and I grabbed my purse," said 62-year-old Angela Taylor, laughing bitterly as she stared at the smoldering building. "It's the purse, but it's better than nothing."

She paid $550 a month for a room on the first floor, Taylor said.

Several residents said they discounted the initial commotion over the fire because the building and neighborhood are noisy. Loud arguments occur frequently, and some residents stayed up late, drinking and partying.

Kirsten Evans, 52, said she is paying $1,100 a month for a small studio apartment without a kitchen in the building. She said she moved in three years ago after she was evicted from an apartment she had for 20 years because her landlord wanted to raise her rent dramatically.

She said she woke up briefly Monday to take her medication and heard yelling and screaming. She crawled back into bed and pulled the covers over her head because loud disputes in the early mornings are frequent.

"I thought it was a fight," she said.

Then she said she heard the windows popping, shattering from the heat. A skylight in the hallway overhead shattered, and the glass fell outside her door.

Her window opened to the interior of the building, and she said it was glowing orange and red. That's when she dressed and fled.

Evans said she trampled over broken glass and that wires and light fixtures were sparking red and white.

"I didn't hear a fire alarm," she said.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)
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