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Thumbs Up! Buzz Aldrin Gets Surprise Visit in Hospital


Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who was medically evacuated from the South Pole earlier this week, is continuing to recover in a New Zealand hospital — and is in good spirits thanks to a visit from a friend, NBC News reported.

"I had a surprise visitor this morning," the 86-year-old rocket man tweeted from his hospital bed Saturday, along with photos of himself and NASA Deputy Administrator Dr. Dava Newman.

The tweet called Newman a "longtime friend."

Aldrin had been on a tourism adventure to Antarctica when "his condition deteriorated," according to White Desert, which organizes luxury tourism trips to the icy continent. He was evacuated on the first flight out as a precaution and transferred to a hospital in Christchurch, New Zealand, where doctors determined he had fluid in his lungs and prescribed him antibiotics.

Photo Credit: Getty Images
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ATF Headquarters Named for Fallen Connecticut Special Agent


On the 34th anniversary of they day he was killed in the line of duty, the headquarters of the Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives Bureau was renamed for a special agent assigned to the New Haven field office.

Special Agent Ariel Rios was gunned down during an undercover drug deal.

Three and a half decades later, a special ceremony in Washington, D.C. was held to officially name ATF Headquarters in honor of Rios.

Sgt. First class Frank Rios was just a 1-year-old when his father was killed. He said the ceremony was emotional for his family.

“American hero, and Hispanic hero, an ATF agent,” Sgt. 1st Class Rios said.

Sgt. First Class Rios unveiled the official plaque naming ATF headquarters for his father on Friday.

“It’s an honor to have this kind of acknowledgment for my father’s career and life and everything he’s done and accomplished,” Sgt. 1st Class Rios said.

“It’s an honor for the family. I don’t want to start crying again, so it’s beautiful,” Esilda Morales-Rios, Agent Rios' widow said.

On Friday December 2, 1982, Agent Rios gave a wink to his partner and supervisor Agent Alex D’Atri. The pair had just sealed the deal in a major undercover buy of 3 kilos of cocaine worth $150,000.

It was to be a big win against the Colombian cartels; the cocaine cowboys dominating the drug world and contributing to the rising death count in South Florida.

In seconds, tragedy erupted inside a rundown motel in Little Havana, Miami.

Rios was a shot in the face with a 357-Magnum.

“My father was shot and killed. And then his partner was shot like 5-6 times and lived to tell the tale,” Sgt. 1st Class Rios said.

“Special Agent D’Atri heard Special Agent Rios yell 'no' and then he heard a gunshot," Timothy J. Carroll, Resident Agent in charge of the Hartford field office said. "He turned to see Agent Rios and one of the men struggling over a firearm. Then he saw Special Agent Rios get shot. Special Agent D’Atri returned fire, but while returning fire he was also shot.”

The United States never forgotten agent Rios' sacrifice.

“He stands out for his courage, selflessness and dedication to the mission of this agency,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said at Friday's ceremony.

At the time, Rios had volunteered for the Vice President’s Anti-Drug Task Force, wanting to take down the drug lords that had taken over Miami-Dade County.

“His former supervisors and fellow co-workers said he was a natural undercover agent. Born to do it, and he could transform himself into anything," Carroll said. "Agent Rios was the first of the modern ATF to be killed in the line of duty.”

“He loved his job, he really did. He lived for his job and there is no way he’d want to do anything different,” Morales-Rios said.

Now her late husband’s legacy will live on forever in Washington.

“It’s an ending and a reward for all agents who worked so hard to make it happen. It was them who made it happen,” Sgt. 1st Class Rios said. “He was very committed to his job, he did everything at 100-percent. I have a drive in me, I feel like i got from him.”

In 1985 the Ariel Rios Federal Building was named in honor of Agent Rios. ATF shared the building was other agencies on Pennsylvania Avenue, but that building was renamed for President Bill Clinton in 2013.

ATF had never before had a standalone headquarters without sharing a building with another agency. ATF moved into its new headquarters in 2006.

The Ariel Rios building is the only federal building in Washington, D.C. named after a fallen agent.

Photo Credit: Family Photo

Fire Rips Through Oakland Warehouse, Killing 9


At least nine people were killed and 25 others are unaccounted for after a three-alarm fire erupted at a warehouse party in Oakland late Friday night, fire officials said.

Photo Credit: AP

Venue Had Complaints Before Fire


The scene of a late-night dance party in Oakland that went up in flames late Friday was already under investigation for structural deficiencies before the fire claimed the lives of at least nine people overnight, according to records obtained by the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit.

The Oakland Planning and Building Department launched an investigation into the habitability of the warehouse less than a month ago, citing an “illegal interior building structure.”

Following Friday’s fire, Oakland launched a new investigation into the warehouse, again citing a “housing habitability complaint.”

Property records show the warehouse is owned by a trust created by Chor N Ng. Records show Ng, either individually or through the trust, also owns more than a dozen other buildings in Oakland, San Francisco and Santa Clara.

A family member speaking on behalf of the owner told the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit they were "trying to figure out what happened just like everyone else."

New city records, obtained by the Investigative Unit, cite accounts from fire fighters who said “some victims may have been trapped in Friday’s fire since they couldn’t escape down a makeshift, one-way stairwell leading to the second floor that was built out of wooden pallets.”

In defense of the owner, the family member said the stairway is not made of wood pallets, is built to code and is a full stairway in the back of the building inside.

Records also show the warehouse and surrounding area have been the subject of nearly 10 blight complaints over the past decade.

A website for the warehouse, which refers to the venue as the ‘Oakland Ghost Ship,’ posts several dozen photos of the interior. The structure, which also featured a work space for artists, appears to be filled with large pieces of wooden furniture and vintage decorations.

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“I was just able to get in about 10 feet,” said Oakland Fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed. “I couldn’t really get past that point. The roof has collapsed so there is a lot of timber and heavy wood and stuff that’s in there.”

Reed, speaking to reporters early Saturday morning, described the fire as the worst Oakland has seen at least since the Oakland Hills fire 25 years ago that claimed 25 lives.

In examining the scene of this latest fire, Reed said she noticed two fire extinguishers inside the warehouse, but doesn’t believe the facility was equipped with working smoke detectors since victims did not remember hearing any alarms during the fire.

“There’s still a lot of the building that needs to be searched,” Reed said. “I pray our fatality count doesn’t go up, but I believe there is a potential for it to.”

Photo Credit: Ari Nava

9 Killed, Dozens More Feared Dead in Oakland Warehouse Fire


At least nine people were killed and 25 others are unaccounted for after a three-alarm fire erupted at a warehouse party in Oakland late Friday, but officials "expect the death toll to rise."

The fire ripped through the 1300 block of 31st Avenue at about 11:30 p.m., Oakland Fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed said. Officials found no evidence of smoke alarms or sprinklers at the now-gutted building, where the charred roof collapsed onto the second floor, which in places dropped onto the first floor. 

On social media, people referred to the building as the “Oakland Ghost Ship,” an artist's conclave. 

A Facebook event page indicates that the fire sparked during a Golden Donna show, which was promoted by Los Angeles-based dance label 100% Silk. Bob Mule, a survivor, said the space is also occupied by a 24-hour artist collective that he belongs to. Pictures from the scene identify the site as Satya Yuga.

Battalion Chief Lisa Baker said the building was "subdivided into other occupancies" and between 50 and 100 people were partying on the upper floor. Mark Hoffman, operations chief at the Oakland Fire Department, described the building as a "labyrinth," dotted with wood workers, sculptors, painters and more.

However, Darin Ranelletti, of the Oakland Planning Department, said the building was only permitted for use as a warehouse. City officials are investigating whether people were living in the warehouse illegally before Friday's lethal fire.

About the rave that young electronic music fans flocked to, Ranelletti said, "Such a party would require a special permit from the city, and such a permit had not been issued." 

Reed confirmed there were "nine known fatalities" around 7 a.m., and that at least 25 others were unaccounted for. Around 9 a.m., Alameda County sheriff's Sgt. JD Nelson said officials are preparing for about 40 deaths based on the number of confirmed fatalities and numerous reports of missing people. 

Later in the day, Sheriff's spokesman Ray Kelly declined to "play the numbers game," and said officials will give an updated death toll as the investigation moves forward.

The inferno, however, has reduced the building to a smoldering skeleton. Kelly said that weak and shaking walls have complicated and delayed the recovery and identification process.

Fire crews were forced to withdraw from the structure because it needs to be shored up. They will need to use heavy equipment, including cranes and bulldozers, to create a safe path into building. So it may take "considerable" time before victims are identified, according to Kelly. 

So far, four bodies has been recovered, he said. Investigators will be at the scene through late Sunday, possibly early Monday. 

Meanwhile, Reed emphasized that just because someone is unaccounted for does not mean the person is dead. Officials are working to determine which attendees had taken themselves to the hospital, and who had simply left the warehouse.

"One of the issues," Reed said, was that the building had only "one way up and down from the second floor and it’s my understanding that stairwell was kind of like a makeshift, that they put it together with pallets."

When she tried to enter the building, Reed said she was "just able to get in about 10 feet." Kelly added that it has proven "tricky" to maneuver in the building because of debris, downed beams, a collapsed roof and leaking water.

"This is not an easy task by any means," Kelly said.

The victims are primarily people in their 20s and 30s, but not all are locals, Kelly said.

"It appears that people either made it out or didn’t make it out," he said. "There’s not a lot of other injuries that have been reported to us at this time." 

The first fire crews on the scene "found a building that had smoke and flames coming out of three sides," Baker said. They made an "aggressive" attack to put the fire out, but conditions changed, forcing them to "retreat" from the then-"defensive" blaze.

It took 11 fire engines, three fire trucks and 52 firefighters "four hours to get the fire out," Baker said.

Reed said that 25 people were killed in the 1991 Oakland Hills fire, but "as a single-structure fire, I don't think Oakland has had a fatality of this magnitude in a while."

"It's going to be a huge impact, not just on the firefighters but on the families, on this community and the city as a whole," she added.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said in a statement that the fire was an "immense tragedy" and thanked emergency responders.

"Our focus right now is on the victims and their families and ensuring that we have a full accounting for everyone who was impacted by this tragedy," she said.

The Oakland Athletics tweeted their support for those affected by the fire. "We will work together to heal our community," the team wrote. The A's also sought donations and pledged to match contributions up to $30,000. 

Event organizers have created a list on Facebook to try to figure out who is alive and accounted for. Families and friends took to Facebook and Twitter to express condolences for those who had died in the fire and search for those still missing. Vigils were also planned for Saturday evening.

But some, like Daniel Vega, who was anxiously awaiting news about his brother, Alexander, questioned those responsible. 

"If there was any kind of things wrong with that building, like maybe it was an old, dilapidated building or something like that, why would somebody have a rave there?" he asked. "And if the rave was there, and it was an underground rave, why did the cops let it happen?"

Oakland property records indicate that the warehouse is owned by the Chor N. Ng trust.

A family member speaking on behalf of Ng said they were "trying to figure out what happened just like everyone else" and were "sorry to hear of [the tragedy] and those injured and killed."

Multiple complaints have been filed against the property's owner, records show. A Housing Habitability Complaint, involving an illegal interior building structure, was filed as recently as Nov. 14. City officials were in the process of investigating the complaint when the fire broke out.

A complaint was also filed on Nov. 13 for garbage piling up on the property, some of which was hazardous, records show. There have also been reports of blight at the building.

On Nov. 17, investigator tried to inspect the building but could not even enter, Ranelletti said.

However, in its defense, the Ng family said they didn't regularly communicate with the tenants, who had been renting the property for a few years. They also disputed Reed's comments about the makeshift staircase and said it is a full stairway in the back of the building, which was constructed to code.

A neighbor, who asked not to be identified, said the area is home to a mixture of Latinos and artists. When the warehouse first caught fire, many said, "Oh, that must be the hippie house." 

It is common knowledge, the neighbor said, that artists live inside the warehouse and leave all sorts of junk, including RVs and odds-and-ends, that many in the community scavenge for. 

An arson task force is investigating the cause of the fire, but there’s no reason to suspect arson at this time, officials say. "We will be at this crime scene for weeks to come," Kelly said.

The Alameda County Sheriff's Office and American Red Cross have set up a family assistance center at 2425 E. 12th St. Grief counselors will be on hand. People can call 510-382-3000 for help.

NBC Bay Area's Liz Wagner contributed to this report.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area
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Crash Knocks Out Power in East Haddam


Emergency crews responded to Beebe Road in East Haddam at around 9 a.m. this morning after a man flipped his car over after being distracted by local wildlife police say.

Police tell NBC Connecticut that the driver, a local man in his 50’s, ended up taking his vehicle off-road after he became distracted by wildlife.

The vehicle ended up clipping an electric pole before rolling over to a rest, police say.

Police say the man was trapped and responding firefighters were fearful as there were downed wires around the car.

However, the man was eventually able to exit the car under his own power and was sent to the hospital with minor injuries police say.

Police say the power company is currently working to restore power to any homes in the area affected by the accident.

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut

Locals Give Generously at Toy Drive in East Haddam


Toys piled up in police cruisers across Connecticut Saturday, as the State Police’s annual "stuff a cruiser" event kicked off in communities throughout the state.

East Haddam’s police cruiser looked more like Santa’s sleigh Saturday. Teddy bears, dolls, footballs, and tractors, filled the patrol SUV to the brim within an hour. The donations were dropped off at East Haddam Youth and Family Services.

“Typically, we provide Christmas gifts for anywhere between 100 and 110 kids in the community every year,” said Toni McCabe, who works for the organization.

Residents opened their wallets to give, as well. One person wrote a $500 check.

For some, donating to the town’s toy drive is an annual tradition.

“It does give me pleasure to shop. I don’t have grandchildren that young anymore so I love to go to the stores and look for toys,” explained Elsie Snell of East Haddam.

For others, it was the start of something new.

“We wanted to do it so that our little guy starts to see that not everyone is as lucky as him. His first experience trying to give back,” explained East Haddam resident Katie Hass as she held her son.

All walked away with that warm fuzzy feeling, knowing they’d helped make someone’s holiday be a bit brighter.

“It makes you feel good inside,” said Roger Snell.

“This town is so generous. We have folks that come out. We will fill our cruiser four times today,” said Corporal Craig Mansfield, of the East Haddam Police Department.

Mansfield said this is his favorite time of the year. State Patrol Trooper Patrick Hawes agreed.

“Nobody really calls us when they’re having a great day. So, on days like today it’s great to see everybody come out and donate to the under privileged kids,” added Hawes.

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut

Foxwoods Lights Tree Full of 100,000 Lights


Foxwoods Resort Casino is getting into the holiday spirit.

The casino lit their 30 foot tree, full of a hundred thousand twinkling lights Saturday. 

"If you look all around us, there are lights everywhere. I can't even calculate it, but let's just say, in round numbers, a million lights," said Felix Rappaport, President and CEO of Foxwoods Resort Casino.

The celebration had performances by world champion skater Kimmie Meissner, singer-songwriter Debbie Gibson, and carolers, along with hot chocolate and ice skating.

"It's amazing," said 10-year-old Kitra Wilding, of Groton, about the holiday display. "I love it here. All the lights around the trees, around the house!"

Foxwoods staff said the skating rink will be open until March. They're calling the night a kickoff to the holiday season.

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut

Off-Duty Firefighter Saves Woman From Fiery Car Crash


A Newington woman involved in a fiery car crash on Thanksgiving Day credits a stranger for stopping and helping to save her life.

“At this point I’m so grateful to be alive, that I was given a second chance,” Shannon Munoz said.

Munoz is still shocked she survived the crash.

The 22-year-old was driving on Route 9 southbound near exit 23 in Berlin when she lost control.

“I remember hitting the guardrail and the car just ricocheted to the other side of the highway and that’s when it flipped four or five times,” Munoz said.

Munoz was stuck inside the Volvo sedan with cars flying by.

It just happened an off-duty Hartford firefighter was driving not too far behind.

“As I passed I saw someone trapped in the car,” David Cote, a Hartford firefighter, said.

Cote parked and rushed to help.

He and two of Munoz cousins, who also happened to stop, pulled the driver from the car which was now on fire.

“I told her just to look at me and told her to trust me and that it will be over soon and she was strong,” Cote said.

Moments later the entire car burst into flames and Munoz was safely on her way to the hospital.

Now nine days later she’s recovering from a concussion and several broken bones.

She credits the angel who still is by her side for saving her life.

“I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to thank him but he’s always going to be in my prayers every day,” Munoz said.

“When you can help people, you help,” Cote said.

Munoz – who is an elementary school paraprofessional in Middletown – hopes to be home for Christmas and back to work early next year.

And this Christmas there’s an invitation for a special guest, the firefighter who will forever have a bond with that family.

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut

Drunk Driver Arrested After Hitting Pedestrian in Newington


Fenn Road in Newington was closed for several hours Saturday night  after a drunk driver hit a pedestrian on Fenn Road.  

Police said a single vehicle struck a pedestrian on Fenn Road near Myra Cohen Way just after 7 p.m. 

The pedestrian was transported to Hartford Hospital with serious injuries, authorities said.

The operator of the vehicle was arrested at the scene for driving under the influence. 

The road was closed at Cedar Street while the Mid State Accident Reconstruction Team investigated. 

Police are asking anyone who may have witnessed the accident to contact Newington police at 860-594-6208. 

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut

Crews Extinguish Fire at UConn Daily Campus Building


UConn and Mansfield fire crews responded to a fire outside of the UConn Daily Campus building on Dog Lane in Storrs at around 12:50 a.m. this morning, according to university spokesperson Stephanie Reitz.

According to Reitz, once on scene, firefighters discovered a large number of newspapers burning on the loading dock as well as nearby plastic containers.

Small amounts of smoke entered the interior of the building but the fire itself did not, Reitz said.

According to Reitz, the only permanent damage the building sustained was on its exterior, with some of the outside wall being scorched.

All employees of the Daily Campus that were inside the building made it outside and none were injured, however one firefighter did sustain minor injuries, Reitz said.

The cause of the fire is under investigation at this time.

Derby Factory Damaged by Fire to be Torn Down


An abandoned factory in Derby was so heavily damaged by fire Sunday morning that the building will be torn down, city officials said.

Fire crews were called to the factory on Caroline Street around 5:15 a.m. When they arrived the building was fully engulfed in flames.

Firefighters said the roof caved in and the top floors collapsed.

The city said the damage was so extensive the building can no longer safely stand on its own and could collapse at any time. The mayor told NBC Connecticut she’s asked the state fire marshal to give the city permission to demolish the building. The factory is over 100 years old.

“The chief has notified us the building is in imminent danger of collapsing. The roof is down the second floor is gone,” said Derby Building Official Carlo Sarmiento.

The state of the building is making it difficult for officials to determine the cause of the fire, as it’s not safe for investigators to go very far inside. The state fire marshal said he’ll do the best he can to discover the cause.

This is not the first time the factory caught fire.

“About a month or so ago there was a fire in there. The building is abandoned. So, we don’t know if there was people living in it or not, but they inspected the building the last time,” said Carmen DiCenso, Board of Alders President.

Fire officials continue to investigate.

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut

Person Struck and Killed By Car on Route 80 in East Haven


A person was struck and killed by a vehicle on Foxon Road in East Haven on Saturday night, police say.

Police said officers responded to the scene at around 8:39 p.m. due to reports of a struck pedestrian.

The road remained closed from Michael Street west to Old Foxon Road while police investigated Saturday night.

According to police, once on scene officers determined that the vehicle that struck the individual had fled from the accident.

The person who was struck was sent to Yale-New Haven Hospital where they later died from their injuries, police say.

Police say a suspected vehicle was later found occupied in New Haven.

According to police, the victim has not yet been identified, pending notification of next of kin.

East Haven Police are asking anyone who may have witnessed the incident or has any additional information to please contact Officer Gorman at (203) 468-3820.

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut

Ten Fire Crews Battle Blaze Overnight in Danielson


Over ten Departments responded to a fire at a building in Danielson early Sunday morning, according to the Quinebaug Valley Emergency Communications center.

According to Quinebaug Valley, Fire crews responded to an unoccupied vacant building at 14 Central Street in Danielson just before 1 a.m. for a two alarm blaze.

The fire was declared under control by 5:51 a.m., Quinebaug Valley says.

According to Quinebaug Valley, no firefighters were injured during the incident, however the building did sustain heavy damage.

As of 7 a.m. the State Fire Marshall and Local Fire Marshall remained on scene investigating the fire, Quinebaug Valley said.

Photo Credit: Quinebaug Valley Emergency Communications Inc.

Torrington Police Seek Suspect in Armed Robbery


Torrington police are searching for a suspect accused of robbing a Subway Saturday night.

Police said the suspect entered the Subway at 455 Winsted Road around 9:20 p.m. and demanded money from the clerk. Employees reported that the suspect showed a box cutter and had a handgun in the waistband of his pants.

The suspect stole an undisclosed amount of cash and fled on foot. No injuries were reported.

The suspect is described as 5-foot-8 to 5-foot-10 with a stocky build, wearing a dark hooded coat over a light sweatshirt and a mask.

Anyone with information on this crime is urged to call Torrington police at 860-489-2000.

Photo Credit: Torrington Police Department

Norwich Man Killed in Preston Crash


A Norwich man was killed in a rollover accident in Preston Sunday morning.

State police said James Ferando, 38, was driving east on Route 165 near Cedarcrest Drive around 5:35 a.m. Ferando’s vehicle drifted onto the west side of the road and struck a curb, causing the car to roll over onto its roof in a ditch.

Ferando was pronounced dead on scene by the Preston Fire Department, police said.

State police are investigating the crash. Anyone with information should contact State Police Troop E at 860-848-6500.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

East Lyme Police Investigate Vehicle Theft, Break-Ins


East Lyme police are investigating several reported vehicle break-ins and a stolen vehicle overnight.

Police said Sunday morning they received several reports of car break-ins in the Jeremy Drive and Dean Road areas. A white 2016 Mazda CX-5 Touring license plate 521-LEM was also reported stolen.

Anyone who spots the stolen vehicle is asked not to approach it and to contact East Lyme police or call 911 immediately.

Suspicious activity can be reported to the East Lyme Police Department at 860-739-5900. Anyone who may have surveillance video of the area is asked to look at it and contact police with any information.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Pratt & Whitney Union Workers Agree to New Contract


The Machinist union that represents thousands of Pratt & Whitney workers ratified a new contract Sunday.

Members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) Locals 700 and 1746 met Sunday and agreed to the contract, which takes effect Monday and runs through May 2022.

Workers were hoping for higher wages and adjustments to pensions and health benefits, according to posts on the union website. According to the company, the new contract provides a 2.5 percent wage increase each year of the contract, and enhanced pension benefits. Employees will continue the move to medical plans with health savings accounts over the contract.

IAM represents about 2,600 Pratt & Whitney workers.

In a release from the company Terry Nolan, vice president of Employee and Labor Relations wrote “this contract rewards our employees for their skill, dedication and hard work, while also positioning the company for long-term success.”

33 Killed, Death Toll Expected to Climb After Oakland Fire


Thirty-three people were confirmed dead Sunday after a horrific Oakland warehouse blaze that has since been deemed one of the country’s deadliest structure fires, sheriff's officials said.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf announced at a news conference Sunday that the Alameda County District Attorney's Office has launched a criminal investigation into to fire at the converted warehouse on 31st Avenue.

Meanwhile, firefighters continued to maneuver through the wrecked "Ghost Ship," where an unknown amount of people were attending a Friday night electronic music festival. 

Any potential criminal investigation must be officially implemented by the Alameda County district attorney, and Schaaf confirmed that a representative from that office is at the scene of the blaze and "engaged in the recovery effort."

"What I am doing is getting a team of city employees to gather every piece of evidence," she said.

A Facebook event page indicates that the fire sparked during a Golden Donna show — promoted by Los Angeles-based dance label 100% Silk — at the warehouse at 1315 31st Avenue. 

Crews, who arrived on scene Friday night within 3 minutes, have so far only been able to search about 35 to 40 percent of the building, sheriff's Sgt. Ray Kelly said Sunday. Schaaf added that crews continue to piece through the rubble around the clock.

"We are working as fast as we can," she said.

Victims range in age from as young as 17 years old to people in their 30s, but that scope could shift as the rest of the wreckage is peeled back, Kelly said.

"It's very unfortunate that we have to tell you that we have 17-year-old victims," Kelly said.

Among the dead include an Alameda County Sheriff's deputy's son and people visiting from countries across the globe such as Europe and Asia, Kelly said.

Sheriff's officials plan to begin releasing the names of victims Sunday after notifying the families. A total of seven people have been positively identified as of Sunday afternoon, according to Kelly. Kelly added that officials have been able to identify victims after comparing fingerprints or locating personal identifiers such as material found in wallets or purses.

"We're doing the identifications as fast as we can," Kelly said. "The sooner we can get those identifications done, the sooner we can meet with the families, offer counseling and begin to move forward from that. We want to get everybody identified as quickly as possible, however it's a very cumbersome process."

Among the missing include community members associated with UC Berkeley, the school confirmed Sunday. Meanwhile, "several dozen" people who were initially reported missing have been located and reunited with their families, he said. 

Capt. Melanie Ditzenberger with the Alameda County Coroner's Bureau reiterated that the families of people who are still missing to "preserve sources of DNA," including combsand toothbrushes, to "prevent future delays" in the identification process. She also asked that such items be stored in clean paper sacks, but not sent to the coroner's bureau. Officials will ask for them, if needed.

"It's a terrible thing to have to say that, to have to come out here and do that, but that's what we're left to deal with here," Kelly said.

Officials suspect that artists were living illegally in the structure, although it was permitted for use only as a warehouse. Mark Hoffman, operations chief at the Oakland Fire Department, described the building as a "labyrinth," cluttered with woodworkers, sculptors, painters and more.

Oakland property records indicate the warehouse is owned by the Chor N. Ng trust, and multiple complaints have been filed against the owner. A family member speaking on behalf of Ng said they were "trying to figure out what happened just like everyone else" and were "sorry to hear of [the tragedy] and those injured and killed."

Oakland Fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed said there was no evidence of smoke alarms or sprinklers at the now-destroyed building. Further, its charred roof collapsed onto the second floor, which in places plunged onto the first floor. 

When she tried to enter the building, Reed said she was "just able to get in about 10 feet." Kelly agreed that it has proven "tricky" to move around in the building because of debris, downed beams, a collapsed roof and leaking water.

The inferno reduced the building to a smoldering skeleton, and Kelly said weakened walls further complicated and delayed the recovery and identification process. Fire crews were forced to withdraw from the unstable structure Saturday because it needed to be shored up.

Officials brought in heavy equipment, including cranes, dump trucks, excavators and bulldozers, to create a safe path into the building. They flooded the building with light while crews worked carefully so bodies weren't scooped up with debris, Kelly said.

Melinda Drayton, a battalion chief with the Oakland Fire Department, said she took up her post around 9 p.m. Saturday and oversaw recovery efforts for 12 hours.

Crews "breached the left side of the warehouse building" so firefighters and Alameda County sheriff's officials could move debris "literally bucket by bucket" from the ravaged structure to a vacant lot next door," Drayton said.

Firefighters dressed in "coveralls" used "buckets and shovels" to clear the scene in a "methodical, thoughtful, mindful and compassionate way," according to Drayton.

When Drayton entered the building, she said she noted a "somber approach" to the difficult work being done.

"It was quiet. It was heartbreaking," she said, choking up.

Kelly echoed the same sentiment.

"This is very hard work and it's very slow and it's definitely taken a toll on first responders here," he said.

Of the bodies recovered, one was found within a few feet of the breached wall, three were on the east side of the building, four lay at the center — where large and treacherous timber rafters had also landed — and within 10 feet of them were six more, according to Drayton. 

Although it was a "phenomenal feat" to comb through one-fifth of the warehouse overnight, firefighters still have a ways to go, Drayton said.

"This will be a long and arduous process, but we want to make sure that we are respecting the victims, their families and our firefighters' safety," Drayton said.

In the meantime, Oakland police spokeswoman Johnna Watson said officers have conducted an areawide search, noting license plate numbers of cars that victims may have driven to the warehouse. They are now trying to match cars with registered owners to aid in the identification process. 

It may take "considerable" time before all the victims are found and identified, according to Kelly. He added that officials are investigating the warehouse "around the clock" and will be there for "days and days to come."

"It appears that people either made it out or didn’t make it out," he said. "There’s not a lot of other injuries that have been reported to us at this time."

Drayton, who has spent 19 years with the city's fire department, said, "This is the most deadly fire in Oakland Fire’s history that I’m aware of." The 1991 Oakland Hills fire killed 25 people. "It is tragic to watch so many people perish from a fire fatality in front of your eyes and have to be stoic in your job, be professional in your actions, and make sure we’re honoring the victims and their families to bring them safely out of the building," Drayton added.

In the hours after the fire, the Bay Area community roared back with support for people affected by the fire. Elected officials, including Schaaf and Gov. Jerry Brown, offered their condolences; groups organized vigils; the A's and Raiders made donations; and Facebook rolled out its Safety Check so people could inform family and friends about their condition. 

The Alameda County Sheriff's Office and American Red Cross also set up a family assistance center at 2425 E. 12th St. People called 510-382-3000 for help.

According to Kelly, the center proved to be a great resource for people frantically searching for their loved ones.

"We have contacted every family member. We have sat down with them. We have talked to them. We have cried with them. We have spent hours and hours with them," Kelly said. However, that wouldn't have been possible without support from chaplins, city workers, Red Cross officials and others.

"The offers of assistance have been amazing," he said.

Separately, an arson task force is investigating the cause of the fire, but there’s no reason to suspect arson at this time, officials said. 

"It’s still under investigation," Drayton said. "We don’t believe we’ve even gotten close to the point of origin of the fire."

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No Injuries in Fire at Ridgefield Senior Living Facility


Firefighters responded to a fire call at an assisted living facility in Ridgefield Sunday morning.

Ridgefield Fire Marshal Michael Grasso confirmed crews were called to the Ridgefield Crossings, a senior living facility on Danbury Road, around 9 a.m. By the time firefighters arrived the fire had been contained by the sprinkler system.

The fire started when a dishtowel a resident was heating in a microwave caught fire. The resident threw the flaming town on the ground, which ignited a chair.

The sprinkler system went off and the fire was contained to one unit. The unit suffered significant smoke and water damage. Several other units also suffered water damage from the sprinklers.

No one was injured and the fire has been deemed accidental, Grasso said.

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