Reflections on the Oakland Warehouse Fire

As the nation mourns the tragedy of the dozens who perished in the Oakland Warehouse Fire, it is time logic is addressed as well.

When I was in my early twenties, I went to several such parties. Not raves, but more like shows and readings from books, have a couple of beers. There was no thought involved, for the cities and the parties I attended, the people I met, were the main thing. To an extent it was well worth throwing caution to the wind, far away from a stagnant hometown, in order to meet a fellow artist.

Then one day I had a revelation of what would ever happen if indeed a fire broke out.

I mentioned this to the sort of man in this confessional video published recently – and I was laughed out of the room.

These people did not even have fire extinguishers on hand.

That is psychotic.

There are places like this Oakland Warehouse all over America. Places with neither window nor fire escape. Drugs rampant. Cigarettes and spliffs abound. Ashes.

Inquiry into sprinklers or fire extinguishers or emergency exits will get you laughed out of the room.

It is this attitude that killed those poor people. We must, as a people, never let artistic integrity transcend the real safety of the people attending these warehouses.

He is likely to say he was providing a Safe Space. This is doublespeak. Stupidity and an apology does not save the fool who gets into his car drunk and runs over children walking home from school. Ideological safety must be treated with equal sincerity for the physical safety of these sorts of artistic havens. This applies to housing as well.

For instance, the last room I looked at renting in NYC had no windows and the only door to get out was at least 100 feet down a long, long hallway. It was a waste of time to even come out to that edge of the city. Out of morbid curiosity I asked about a fire escape.

Again, laughed at.

“No, but that’s why it’s so cheap!”

So there you have it, folks. This mentality is potentially lethal. The owners of the property know this. I am neither condemning any single person nor casting judgment; rather, I am advocating the safety and logical precaution of all of my fellow Americans. The lure of artistry, of city life, of refuge for the outsiders -- let us never again let this legitimate passion blind us from the reality of physical harm. Poor people yearning for the city cannot be so desperate for city-entitlement so as to risk their lives. Yet so many do.

The liberal tears pass away. Our hearts remain broken. I have many great friends in the Bay Area, lived there many years, and I am writing this little piece so as to advocate in this period of mourning to not let a noble idea transcend imminent danger.

It’s great that you care about the LGBT community. It’s great you love music and performance art. It’s great you love poetry, creativity. In fact we have a lot in common. When I was in the process of composing some of my forthcoming books I rented a room in a converted school building. The thing is that while the rooms some stories up were cheaper, in the face of crisis there was no way out. So I saved money for a while, and although my craft and art has been a longer time coming, the equation I herein today write of makes it all worthwhile.

Let us mourn for our departed, and let us take this as a nationwide call to not mock things like sprinklers, alarms, extinguishers, fire escapes - you know, reason.

J.W.D. Nicolello is a journalist, editor, librarian in training, and the author of several forthcoming books, including The Living Prayers of Thomas Merton (Response to Auden's Kierkegaard). He can be reached at