Revisiting the Ghost Ship: A Cal Grad Recalls the Tragic Fire

Today marks the first anniversary of the tragic Ghost Ship fire in Oakland which claimed the lives of 36 people, including five from the UC Berkeley community: students Jennifer Morris and Vanessa Plotkin, alumni Griffin Madden and David Cline, and KALX DJ Chelsea Dolan.

The tragedy had the effect of making some feel like Oakland and the Bay were a small town; it seemed as if everyone knew someone who had been touched by the event.

Alastair Boone was a California intern at the time and had been in the warehouse minutes before the conflagration broke out. Now an editorial fellow at the Atlantic’s City Lab in Washington D.C., she recalls that “one of the hardest things about this experience for me was that I didn’t know anyone died until I read about it on the news the next morning. I watched the building burn for an hour and was not aware that 36 people were trapped. It’s confusing to become so aware of the fact that death is only ever a decision or two away, and that it is as present in every moment as it was a year ago when I watched a building burn, and marveled at the way the concrete coughed and windows broke while people were dying quietly inside.”

Boone, a Cal alumna and former Daily Californian reporter, was disappointed with the way the press reported on the event in the aftermath. The first reports especially failed to appreciate why anyone was living in the warehouse space in the first place, she said. She also resented the way reporters approached anyone who seemed like they were grieving for comment. “The media was just a negative presence at that point and they made it more scarring.”

That said, she commends reporting by the East Bay Times, which was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage. “The difference there is that they were patient, they took their time trying to understand it.”

— Pat Joseph
Filed under: Cal Culture
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