VIDEO: Oakland firefighter, tenant testify in Ghost Ship fire preliminary hearing


OAKLAND (KRON) -- Tuesday was a much different day in court for the two defendants charged in the deaths of 36 people who perished in the Ghost Ship warehouse fire.

A former tenant of the Ghost Ship testified, as well as a handful of other witnesses, including a firefighter from the Oakland Fire Department.

One man who testified, Michael Russell, had a chilling tale. He lived at the warehouse in a trailer.

He described the night of the fire, like a horror show, saying after he smelled smoke and saw flames, he saw a woman yelling at guests to not use the stairs and stay in the inferno.

He said she was yelling, "This is the will of the spirits of the forest."

He explained he grabbed a few belongings and with a date, "escaped for my life."

He did also add that when outside, he heard Max Harris yelling, "This is the exit. This is the exit."

Harris and Derick Almena are facing 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter for those that died in the fire, which engulfed the warehouse back on Dec. 2, 2016. Prosecutors argue Almena and Harris knowingly built up the warehouse illegally, allowing tenants to bring in RVs pianos, statues, rugs, staircases, and highly inflammable items that allowed the warehouse to go up in flames, trapping partygoers that fateful night.

Mary Alexander, a civil attorney representing more than a dozen family members who lost loved ones, believes prosecutors are proving their case so far.

A contractor said he talked with defendant Almena about the electrical inside the warehouse as well as the staircase, calling the conditions inside "unsafe."

However, when he brought this to Almena's attention, he said Almena did not want to do anything about it.

Also on the stand was an Oakland fire captain, who went into the warehouse in 2014.

He was concerned, he testified, about all of the items in the warehouse but said no one was living there at the time.

Court resumes on Wednesday.


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