In 1997, a fire that started as a result of faulty wiring on the first floor of a two-story apartment in San Francisco’s Hunter Point claimed the lives of four young children ages 8 months, 3 years, 4 years, 6 years, and their grandmother. The fire department originally thought the fire was the result of a dropped cigarette butt into a sofa, and looked no further. However, we were able to establish that the fire started in an electrical outlet, where the grandmother previously complained of sparks from the outlet, and then spread to the sofa and the rest of the apartment.
Tragically, the upstairs sleeping children and their grandmother had no notice, because the San Francisco Housing Authority did not comply with regulations calling for smoke detectors on each floor of a two-story unit. As a result, a completely preventable accident destroyed a family. Ultimately, a San Francisco jury awarded the remaining family members $15 million dollars for the deaths of their loved ones. (Joseph vs. San Francisco Housing Authority, 127 C.A. 4th 78, 2005)
The Oakland Ghost Ship Fire
Late Friday night on December 2, 2016, the Oakland Ghost Ship fire claimed the lives of 36 people. According to the Los Angeles Times article, “…people were living in violation of city codes and under conditions that witnesses said included exposed dangling wires, makeshift heating from propane tanks and only one usable exit – a rickety staircase made of pallets.”
Police and fire investigators will be searching for the cause of the fire, and the potential criminal aspects resulting from arson or code violations. In doing an investigation, hopefully they will also look at all of the potential causes of the fire, including defective wiring, leaks from the propane tanks, problems with appliances, fire code violations, and failures to correct unsafe conditions. Any of the companies that worked on the building as contractors, engineers, managed the building, or inspected the building will have their roles examined. Additionally, the roles of the owner and the tenants, the promoters who held the event, and the government entities charged with zoning and fire safety responsibilities should be scrupulously reviewed. The families who lost loved ones and those who survived are owed answers and those responsible for this devastation need to be held accountable.
The Brandi Law Firm has represented people injured from defective buildings, unsafe facilities leading to destructive fires, and represented the families of the four children and their grandmother in the 1997 Hunters Point fire. For information, contact Thomas J. Brandi at the Brandi Law Firm 415-989-1800 or [email protected].