Friday, December 9, 2016

In the News: Bay Area Reporter

Bay Area grieves Ghost Ship fire victims


Hundreds of people gathered at Oakland's Lake Merritt Monday for a candlelight vigil to mourn the 36 lives lost in the Ghost Ship warehouse fire. Photo: Michael Nugent

Many in the Bay Area are grieving the loss of 36 people, including three who identified as transgender individuals, who died in a fire at an Oakland warehouse known as the Ghost Ship. The space, which had reportedly housed several artists, was the site of an electronic music concert Friday night, December 2, when a three-alarm blaze erupted at 11:32.

Officials are investigating what led to the fire at the Fruitvale district warehouse, which had been the subject of complaints as recently as November.
Cash Askew
One of the victims, Cash Askew, 22, of Oakland, was part of the band Them Are Us Too. Askew recently told journalist Beth Winegarner, "As a young teenager, I was definitely attracted to goth and new wave in part because of the androgyny, and that aesthetic gave me a way to explore my gender expression before I could even come to terms with being transgender."

Recalling Em Bohlka also known as Em B, 33, of Oakland, the East Bay Times reported that Jack Bohlka, Em Bohlka's father, "said on Facebook that his daughter was transitioning from a man to 'becoming a beautiful, happy woman.
Em Bohlka
'She at last was living as she was meant to live. I only wish she had more time to fully enjoy her life,'" he said.

Scout Wolfcave, a friend of fire victim Feral Pines, 29, of Berkeley, told the Times, "For many of her trans community, Feral was a guide and sister in a world of small joys and terrible precarity for trans women. Feral was truly committed to empowering those that the world deems powerless."
Feral Pines 
Gehno Aviance, 43, a gay San Francisco man who often works as a DJ, knew many of the people who died in the fire.

In a Facebook exchange with the Bay Area Reporter , Aviance said, "I am utterly devastated but know that it is my higher mission to work through these feelings and live a life that honors theirs. This means: making more art, helping create non-corporate safe-spaces for artists and art-lovers to commune, loving myself, and helping other heal, to name a few."

Aviance recalled three friends in particular.

Amanda Allen Kershaw, a photographer, "was an incredible human" and "an inspiration to many," he said. She'd spent this last Thanksgiving at the home of Aviance and his husband.

Another friend was Johnny Igaz, a musician, DJ, producer, and historian who went by the name Nackt and was "a loud voice for trans and queer rights," Aviance said.

Igaz was "one of those who knew the roots of the modern sounds we hear today," he said. The last gig Igaz played before the fire was Aviance's Say YES! Party, he said.

Chelsea Faith, 33, who was also known as Cherushii, also DJ'd the Say YES! Party. Faith produced and performed her own music and had a weekly show at Underground SF called "Run the Length of Your Wildness."

Aviance said she was an "incredible soul and artist. ... Her music was some of the best" he'd heard.
Trans people and many others attended a vigil Monday night, December 5, in San Francisco's Castro district.

The Reverend Megan Rohrer, who identifies as transgender, said, "There is a need to create a safe space to mourn and to honor the transgender people who died in the fire."

Ian Stanford, an Episcopal priest, said, "As a trans man I want to call out that trans lives matter. Artists matter. Musicians matter. Children matter. The disabled matter. Mommas matter. All humans matter."
Sister Merry Peter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence choked back tears as she recalled other times of grief: The mass shooting earlier this year at the gay Pulse nightclub in Florida; the November victory of President-elect Donald Trump, who's loaded his administration with people who are anti-LGBT; and the 1978 assassination of gay civil rights leader Harvey Milk.

"I just want to be standing with you tonight," Merry Peter said. "We were just here in June for Orlando. We were here night after night after the election. We were here to remember Harvey with candles and prayers. And now tonight – my heart is breaking that we have to do it again."

Another vigil Monday night was held at Oakland's Lake Merritt.

Micah Estrella said, "I lost my brother Chris in the fire. Knowing he is still with me spiritually is the one thing that has gotten me through it."

Jessica Jarvis, of Richmond, California, said, "This has shaken the entire global rave scene. Tragedy brings people together, at this gathering people are reaching out and hugging strangers."

Officials respond
The Alameda County District Attorney's office has launched a criminal investigation into the fire, which destroyed the warehouse space at 1315 31st Avenue.

"We are committed to bringing every resource to bear to determine what happened here and how such a tragic event could have occurred," Oakland officials said in a news release. "Our priority is to bring closure to this tragedy for the victims' families."

Personnel from the Oakland Fire Department; Oakland Police Department; U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; Alameda County Sheriff's Office; and other agencies have been working at the scene of the fire since the weekend.

Many have raised questions about the safety of the building, which was leased by Derick Ion Almena and reportedly was crammed with pianos, rugs, artwork, and other objects, and had a problematic electrical system, no sprinklers, and limited exits. According to media reports, many artists had lived there over the years even though it wasn't zoned for that use. It doesn't appear city agencies had done much to address the hazards.

"The last permitted use of the building was as a warehouse," officials said. On November 13, the city "received complaints of blight and unpermitted interior construction at the building."

On November 17, officials said, "a city building inspector visited the property and verified the blight complaint, but could not gain access to the building to confirm the other complaint regarding unpermitted construction. This is an ongoing investigation."

Darin Ranelletti, interim director of Oakland's planning and building department, didn't respond to an interview request.

Aviance, the DJ who lost friends in the fire, said, "I have many negative feelings come up when I think of how all these deaths could have been prevented, but I will allow the experts to decide and our justice system to make a ruling."

David-Elijah Nahmod and Michael Nugent contributed to this report.

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