OAKLAND, California—The air at the site of a warehouse fire that killed at least 33 people smelled like sour charcoal on Sunday as recovery crews removed debris and searched for bodies.
Bundles of flowers marked the edges of the police tape keeping people away from 1305 31st Street in Fruitvale, the building known as the Ghost Ship. Nearby there were candles and a plastic bottle of whiskey and little handwritten notes on Post-Its.
“Thinking of you, Ara Jo. Love you.”
“Jason, thank you for being my weird alien.”
“Rest in power.”
Just before midnight on Friday, a three-alarm fire consumed the warehouse during a party at the Ghost Ship, which served as a living and working space for an art collective. The building, which was not zoned as a residential space, was divided into separate rooms by makeshift walls and full of wooden furniture. There were no sprinklers. Just last month it was cited for “illegal structures.” A rickety staircase made of wooden pallets led to the second floor, where fire chief Theresa Deloach Reed said Saturday that most of the initial victims were found.
“We’re expecting the worst and hoping for the best in regards to how many more victims we find,” Alameda County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Ray Kelly told reporters.
Late Sunday night, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office Coroner’s Bureau publicly identified seven victims. Dozens more remain unidentified. That’s leaving friends and families of the missing persons thought to be in the building hanging in uncertainty.
One of those friends is Troy Eaves.
Troy’s phone was off most of Saturday at his home in Minneapolis, but when he plugged it into the charger somewhere around 5 or 6 last evening, he was inundated with Facebook messages, texts, and emails from people he hadn’t spoken to in decades. He sorted out the chaos, and Googled “Oakland fire.”
On a series of news articles, he saw the name and photo of his childhood best friend, Jason McCarty, as one of the many missing persons.
McCarty and Eaves grew up in the Iowa town of Fort Madison, perched on the lip of the Mississippi River. They met around kindergarten or first grade, and lived just a few blocks away from each other. They’d ride bikes to each others’ houses, and do sleepovers every weekend. In high school, they shared a locker for four years.
“We were basically inseparable,” Eaves, 35, told The Daily Beast.
McCarty is a year older than Eaves, so he got his license a little earlier. They’d drive around, listening to Wu Tang and Radiohead. One time, they skipped class and went to Warped Tour, saw Redman, the Counting Crows. A weird mix of bands, he remembers.
They watched Chicago Bulls games with Jason’s dad—he really liked basketball back then. But mostly, in those later teenage years, they drew—for hours and hours, on sketchpads, sitting sometimes in silence, but occasionally talking and comparing, bouncing ideas off one another.
Eaves was always inspired by the extent of Jason’s talent.
“I would mimic the way he drew, and try to emulate him to a degree,” Eaves said. “Because he was the coolest, most artistic free spirit I knew.”
College sent Jason to Maryland and Troy to the University of Iowa, but they always carved out time in their schedules to catch up as they grew into their 30s—twice or so a year, Troy says. The last time was just a few weeks ago, when Jason was preparing to visit his girlfriend in Paris. Troy mentioned he wanted to get out to San Francisco soon to visit.
Troy is glued to every update the news brings. He is bracing for the worst.
“I don’t know what the news would be, besides a confirmation,” he says.
Jason’s name wasn’t on the list of names Alameda County released late Sunday night. Troy will keep following the news.
“He really was the most impactful friend I’ve ever had,” Troy says. “He impacted me inspired me challenged me than anyone I ever met. He was such a true artist and a true honest, real person, and he was inspiring and he didn’t even know it. He was himself, at all times.”
“It’s those things you wish you told him before.”