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Oakland warehouse 'deathtrap' owner refuses to answer questions in very emotional interview

A fireman is seen on the roof of a warehouse after it was destroyed by a fire Saturday in Oakland, California. Up to 40 people were feared dead in a huge fire that tore through a rave party in the warehouse as authorities warned of a prolonged search and recovery effort. (Nick Otto/AFP/Getty Images)

More questions are being raised about the fatal fire in an Oakland warehouse that was touted as an artist's collective but had few safety standards. The operator of the warehouse is described by some as a "guru" who profited from renting it out but neglected to keep it up to code.

In a very emotional interview Tuesday morning on the NBC's "Today," Derick Almena angrily deflected questions about his responsibility in the blaze that killed 36.

Almena said he wasn't even at the party when the fire broke out as he had rented a nearby hotel room to get some sleep with his three children.

But the more that comes out about Almena, the more it sounds like the brunt of the blame might wind up being put on him:

The founder of a ramshackle Oakland artists' colony where dozens of people burned to death saw himself as a kind of guru and loved to surround himself with followers but showed chilling disregard for their well-being, according to relatives, neighbors and acquaintances.

Derick Ion Almena, 46, leased and operated the cluttered warehouse where a blaze erupted Friday night during a dance party, leaving at least 36 people dead in the nation's most lethal building fire in over a decade.

Neighbors and occupants of the building said he had illegally carved it into rented living and studio space for artists, calling it the Satya Yuga collective. On Monday, prosecutors watched over the scene to preserve evidence as bodies were pulled from the blackened ruins. Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley said that if prosecutors believe criminal charges are warranted, charges could range from involuntary manslaughter to murder.

Almena's own family doesn't have much good to say about him:

"Honestly, I don't think he is capable of feeling any kind of remorse or guilt," said [Alemna's partner Micah] Allison's father, Michael Allison of Portland, Oregon. "I've never seen him ever really care about anyone else."

He described the couple as users of methamphetamine, heroin and crack and said their three young children were taken away from them by social service authorities for several months beginning last year. The youngsters were found hungry, infested with lice and ill-clothed, he said.

This coupled with the "Today" interview where he absolutely refused to answer any questions makes Almena appear terribly suspicious to many observers. However, the artists who said the conditions at the warehouse were terrible kept living there. In fact, one artist said she accepted it because she wanted to stay in the community.

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