OBJECTIVE: Structural fires remain a prominent threat to public health and safety even in several regions of the developed world, where rising housing costs force many to reside in unsafe environments. This case report of the Ghost Ship Warehouse fire in Oakland, California, highlights deficiencies in the emergency management system in the context of similar nightclub incidents to inform recommendations that might prevent such events from occurring in the future. DESIGN: The characteristics of the Ghost Ship warehouse and circumstances surrounding the fire, as described in government documents and news media sources, were examined using the disaster life cycle framework. The Ghost Ship fire was also compared with two prior fire disasters at the Happy Land nightclub in New York City and Station nightclub in West Warwick, Rhode Island. RESULTS: The following risk factors were identified as common features of deadly nightclub fires: large crowd size, limited access to exits, multiple code violations, lack of required permits, inadequate fire suppression systems, and poor building maintenance. CONCLUSIONS: To prevent the recurrence of such disasters, Oakland and other cities should adopt measures to improve interdepartmental communication; streamline reporting of fire and safety hazards, and allocate sufficient resources and staff capable of identifying hazardous buildings, performing inspections, and enforcing building and fire codes. Equally importantly, the urban affordable housing crisis needs to be adequately addressed to mitigate vulnerable populations living in unsafe dwellings that place them at risk of deadly fires.
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