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Officials: Death toll in Oakland warehouse fire climbs to 36, ‘absolutely believe’ it will rise

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OAKLAND, Calif. — The death toll from Friday’s warehouse fire in Oakland rose to 36, Alameda County Sheriff’s Deputy Tya Modeste said Monday morning, and officials “absolutely believe” the number will increase.

Oakland Fire battalion chief Melinda Drayton said investigators are “no closer to finding a cause of the fire.”

Drayton added that 70 percent of the building has been searched.

“We absolutely believe the number of fire fatalities will increase,” Drayton said.

Investigators will arrive later Monday to get deeper into the back of the building, which has been quarantined.

The building housed artist studios and was hosting a dance party when the fire broke out Friday night.

“The unfortunate reality of this somber Monday morning is that we’re anticipating additional bodies being recovered within the structure,” Oakland Fire Department chief Teresa Deloach Reed said.

“We’re at approximately 70 percent of coverage in terms of the area that we’re able to search, and the 30 percent that’s left is 12 to 15 feet high with debris.”

Drayton on Sunday cautioned that the recovery search could be a long and arduous process as firefighters work to remove debris “literally bucket by bucket in a methodical, thoughtful, mindful and compassionate way,”

“We had firefighters with basically coveralls and buckets and shovels taking bits of debris out into the vacant lot to be loaded into dump trucks and removed to an off-site location,” she said.

Concerned family and friends used social media to find loved ones and offer support.

A Facebook page created for the event became a forum for friends and family of the victims, who posted frantic messages seeking information about loved ones. Those who survived shared their names to show they were safe.

Over the weekend, more than 40 people gathered at the Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland for a vigil for victims. Organizers asked attendees to light a candle at the end of the service, saying flames caused pain and destruction “but tonight we light the flame for good and for peace.