Friends, neighbors mourn loss of 2 men killed in Oakland artists' loft fire

OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - Two days after a fire ripped through part of an apartment building in West Oakland, killing two men, the other residents are being told they can no longer live there - at least temporarily.

While the residents struggle with where to go, they're also fondly remembering the two artistic men who perished.

It was a hard day for people who live in the old artists' loft on 24th Street. "It'd be great to know up front one way or the other, what's the deal, what's the deal, what do we do, where do we go from here?" asked resident Benjamin Garcia.

The fire happened around 3 a.m. on Saturday, causing about a million dollars in damage to the building and one behind it.

The two men died in the unit where the fire started. "I knew both of those people. My brother used to live there; it's so close to me. It's so tragic. It's unbelievable," said Rosalie Shaffer, who brought flowers to the memorial out front.

Davis Letona and David "Moe" Thomas were killed.

Fire officials say because it happened during the middle of the night when everybody was asleep, the victims may have had little chance to get out. "The fire got pretty big in the apartment with some pretty heavy black smoke. That charged the entire unit, we're thinking because of the heavy smoke conditions, that probably overcame the victims initially, and then the fire erupted after that," explained Oakland Fire Battalion Chief Geoff Hunter.

Letona was an aspiring cinematographer. "He was a really beautiful person. He was really artistic, he was very honest. Huge heart. Always a beautiful aura around him," said Shaffer.

Thomas was an artist who had already made a name for himself. His work was on display at the McLoughlin Gallery in San Francisco. "I am trying to put together a memorial for him with some of his friends," said one man who didn't want to be identified. He added that Thomas was his best friend. "Moe was a great dude, man. Artist, very smart."

Fire investigators say they believe they know what caused the fire. "We think it might have been smoking in bed, is the term we would use. We found evidence of a lighter near the body that was near the point of origin," said Hunter.

On Monday afternoon, city inspectors decided to red-tag the building, meaning all other residents had to get out.