The death toll from a huge fire that tore through a converted warehouse in Oakland, California during a dance party has risen to 36, with 11 of the victims identified so far, police say.
A criminal investigation has been launched into the cause of the blaze, which is the deadliest in the United States since 100 people perished in a 2003 fire at a Rhode Island nightclub.
The building known as the "Ghost Ship" had been carved into artist studios and was an illegal home for a rotating cast of a dozen or more people, according to former denizens who said it was a cluttered death trap with few exits, piles of wood and a mess of snaking electric cords.
"If you were going there for a party, you wouldn't be aware of the maze that you have to go through to get out," said Danielle Boudreaux, a former friend of the couple who ran the warehouse.
As many as 100 people were there for a party Friday night when the fire broke out just before midnight. Fire officials were still investigating the cause of the blaze, but they said clutter fuelled the flames, there were no sprinklers inside and few exits to escape.
Shelley Mack said she wasn't told the residence was illegal until after she moved in a couple years ago and stayed for four to five months, paying about $US700 a month. She said she was instructed to tell visitors it was a 24-hour workspace for artists and when outsiders or inspectors planned to visit, residents would scurry to hide clothes and bedding.
"It's like a horror house. Just horrors in there," she said.