Questions Remain on Ghost Ship Blaze

Facebook photo  DJ Johnny Igaz lost his life in the Dec. 2 Ghostship fire. He was born and raised in Alameda.

Questions Remain on Ghost Ship Blaze


Native Alamedan, AHS grad was among the 36 victims

At a brief news conference on Tuesday, Dec. 13, Jill Snyder of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) announced that the cause of the Dec. 2 “Ghost Ship fire” remains under investigation. The Oakland Fire Department invited a fire investigation team from ATF to assist with probing the cause of the fire that destroyed a warehouse in Oakland’s Fruitvale district and claimed 36 lives. 

Among the fatalities was Alameda native John “Johnny” Igaz, who was working at the warehouse as a disc jockey (DJ). Igaz graduated from Alameda High School in 1999 and, shortly thereafter, decided on a career in music. 

When Igaz decided to pursue disc jockeying on a more professional basis, he realized he needed a name to fit. He turned to his then-wife, Hunter Leight, who speaks some German. 

“We had recently been talking about a move to Berlin,” Leight recalled in a touching memorial she wrote after learning of her former husband’s death. “We also talked about the rawness of the sound he wanted to produce, no pretense, no unnecessary frills. I suggested the German word for ‘naked,’ Nackt. It stuck.”

Leight recalls that the most important thing Igaz taught her was “to build up community, to support and nurture our chosen families and to remember that we’re all in this together.” 
Igaz attended Berklee College of Music in Boston and the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts in San Francisco. He worked house parties, and his talent earned him a spot at Oakland’s Ruby Room. He helped found the Deep East party and participated in the eclectic Rare Form undergrounds. 

His friend Chris Zaldua remembers Igaz not just for his music.  In a column he penned for KQED, Zaldua recalls that Igaz had a sense of humor that “never left him without a smile on his face and left him cracking jokes about his own struggles.” Zaldua also describes his late friend’s support for the causes he believed in. These included veganism, feminism, racial justice, non-violence, as well as fair pay for artists, musicians and creators.

Igaz did not live at the “Ghost Ship” warehouse. He went there on Dec. 2 to play his music. He was upstairs entertaining the crowd around 11:30 p.m. when the smell of smoke told him something wasn’t right. One witness later recalled thinking that it couldn’t be smoke, it must have been that fog you see as part of a band’s repertoire. By the time Igaz and 35 others realized what was happening, it was too late. 

Renee Nichols, Igaz’ first love, remembers speaking of death and dying with him. “His philosophy was that since we could go at any minute, we had best live like we had no regrets — or at least, try to leave all our relationships on a positive note.” 

Good advice for all of us.