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Ghost Ship sets sails for silver shores

How one fire affected hundreds of lives

On Dec. 2, 2016 there was a fire at Ghost Ship Warehouse that killed 36 people. Its owner, Derick Almena, 48, and creative director, Max Harris, 28, were to face trial for those deaths.

The Ghost Ship Warehouse was a run-down place in Oakland, California that served as a DIY concert venue, a party place for many people, and a home for several artists. The fire happened on the night of an electronic music dance party. Hundreds of people came through the door into the warehouse that wasn’t up to code. It had no evidence of sprinklers or smoke alarms, and it only had two exits. According to Emanuella Grinberg from CNN, “[v]isitors described navigating a cluttered maze of old furniture and artwork, ladders that led to loft spaces, makeshift rooms partitioned by curtains.” Due to an electronic failure, the party ended in tragedy.

Both Harris and Almena were to go to trial on July 16 of this year; however, the judge struck a deal if they both pleaded no contest. They were made aware that they would be declared guilty of 36 involuntary counts of manslaughter.

According to Daniel Kreps of Rolling Stone, they could have gotten 39 years if found guilty in trial. Thus, they accepted the deal for shorter sentences and to be able to be incarcerated in a county jail instead of prison. Almena is to serve 12 years with three of them on probation, and Harris will serve a 10-year term with four of the years on probation. Although, they will most likely not face their full time if they exhibit good behavior.

In a solemn, quiet room in the Alameda County Superior Court, the judge read off all of the names of those who died that night in the fire. It was then that they were found guilty.

Rhinoceropolis closed down after the Ghost Ship fire spread fear of DIY spaces to Denver. Photo courtesy of 303 magazine.

This was a tragic learning experience and the Denver Police took it seriously. They cracked down on zoning regulations at Rhinoceropolis in the River North neighborhood and evacuated the building, saying that there were several fire-code violations as well as evidence of people living in the warehouse. The Denver Fire Department then made a dedication to start spot checking larger buildings and warehouses to make sure this never happens again.

With the fire of the Ghost Ship Warehouse, concern for other DIY music venues has risen as well. One example was the closing and evacuation of Rhinoceropolis.

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