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Oakland Warehouse Fire: Death Toll Up to 36, Officials ‘Absolutely Believe’ Number Will Climb

At Least 36 Dead in Oakland Warehouse Fire, Toll Expected to Rise 2:15

The fire was so hot, it twisted steel. In the three minutes it took firefighters from a station a block away to arrive on the scene, the converted warehouse was already engulfed in flames, trapping dozens of partygoers.

Officials released more details Monday and increased the death toll from Friday's massive fire in Oakland, California, but key questions — including the cause of the blaze and the identities of many of the victims — remained unanswered. Treacherous conditions inside the warehouse temporarily put efforts on hold Monday as officials bolstered a wall that teetered on the brink of collapse inside the charred building.

At noon PT, authorities announced a planned power outage in the area of the warehouse, which they said would affect 50 to 500 customers for 12 hours. The outage was to allow a large crane to come into the area without hitting any live power lines, said Oakland police spokeswoman Johnna Watson.

Oakland warehouse fire death toll reaches 36 2:29

"This is a safety issue," she said, adding that a service team was going door-to-door to inform residents and businesses in the area of the outage.

In the meantime, relatives anxiously waited for any information at a nearby victims' center in a sheriff's sub-station.

Of the 36 bodies emergency personnel had recovered, just 11 had been identified, leaving desperate family members in a state of limbo for a third day as they awaited word on whether their loved ones, who were packed into the 24-hour artists' collective for a music event Friday night when the inferno ignited, were confirmed to be dead.

The Alameda County Coroner's Bureau asked families to "preserve sources of DNA," including combs and toothbrushes, to "prevent future delays" in the identification process.

Oakland Fire Battalion Chief Melinda Drayton said verifying victims' identities was a painstaking process.

"There's a multi-pronged approach to verify their identification, including ... the DNA and the fingerprinting, because a lot of these young members of our community had ID on them, but we're not able to use that as the pure justification and assume that what we find is reality," Oakland Fire Battalion Chief Melinda Drayton told TODAY on Monday morning.

Oakland warehouse fire death toll will likely rise; fire chief explains why 3:02

Officials had only cleared 70 percent of the building before they were forced to issue a temporary work stoppage due to the astounding amount of damage to the warehouse, which was full of art and had been used as a residential property — despite not having permits for people to live there.

"The large warehouse building was completely filled with combustibles, and once those got started, it was very, very, very rapid fire spread that made for a tremendously scary situation for firefighters entering and people trying to get out," Drayton told TODAY.

Fire officials secured the wobbly wall inside and resumed their recovery effort at 9 a.m. PT Monday, Watson said.

Oakland warehouse fire survivors: 'We all watched our home burn' 2:30

Local investigators, working with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, "feel strongly" that they have identified the area of origin of the fire in the back of the building, Drayton said. But they have no other information.

"We're no closer to finding a cause and we absolutely believe the number of fire fatalities will increase," Drayton said at a news conference Monday morning.

Image: Mourners embrace near the site of the 'Ghost Ship' warehouse fire in Oakland.
Mourners embrace near the site of the 'Ghost Ship' warehouse fire in Oakland. Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP

The victims included at least one teen. On Sunday night, the City of Oakland released the names of seven victims [PDF link here] and said it has the identity of the eighth but would not release the name because that person is 17 and a minor.

The identified victims were: Cash Askew, 22; David Cline, 24; Nick Gomez-Hall, 25; Sara Hoda, 30; Travis Hough, 35; Donna Kellogg, 32; and Brandon Chase Wittenauer, 32.

Image: Brandon Chase Wittenauer
Brandon Chase Wittenauer is missing after a fire at a warehouse in Oakland, California. via Facebook

More names of victims would be released later Monday, Watson said.

Among those still unaccounted for was Alex Vega, 22.

"I don't ever want to say 'was' but you know what I mean — he is in the prime of his life," his brother, Daniel Vega, told NBC News.

Anna Mendiola said her sister-in-law, Jennifer Ann Mendiola, a doctoral candidate in health psychology at University of California Merced, was also missing.

Related: 'Ghost Ship' One of Country's Deadliest Building Fires in Half-Century

She said the 35-year-old was a "free spirit" and LGBTQ ally who "worked so hard," adding: "She was dedicated to her research ... bright, and an extremely sweet person."

Among others missing was Alex Ghassan, a New Jersey native who lived in Brooklyn before recently moving to Oakland, a friend told NBC New York.

David Cline's brother, Neil, declined to speak to NBC News but a Facebook post apparently from him said: "We just received word that my brother David Cline passed away in the Oakland fire.

"To all of you, thank you. Thank you for your kindness, help and love. To David, we love you. You will be with us always."

Related: Loved Ones Wait for Word of Missing After California Warehouse Fire

Donna Kellogg, one of the first to be confirmed dead, was going to culinary school and worked at a local coffee shop, High Wire Roasters in Berkeley, NBC Bay Area said.

Hospitals received very few injured victims, Alameda County sheriff's Sgt. Ray Kelly said Saturday.

"It appears that people either made it out, or they didn't make it out," he told reporters.