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Santa Rosa High School graduate believed among victims of Oakland warehouse fire

Former Santa Rosa resident Barrett Clark died in a fire that tore through a party at an Oakland warehouse on Friday, Dec. 2, 2016. (COURTESY OF LYNN SCHWARZ)

RANDI ROSSMANN,

Friends of former Santa Rosa resident Barrett Clark held a wake Sunday for the well-known Bay Area sound engineer presumed to have died with dozens of others in Friday night’s Oakland warehouse fire.

Clark, 35, initially was named on a Facebook list of possible missing people from the fire but has not been officially identified by Oakland police as a victim.

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Friends said Clark had been working that night, mixing sound for an electronic music party held on a makeshift mezzanine level of the warehouse known as the Ghost Ship.

Police officials early Monday raised the number of fatalities to 36. But about a third of the huge warehouse still needs to be searched and the final death toll was expected to rise.

Clark grew up in Santa Rosa and graduated from Santa Rosa High School in 1999 as a multimedia ArtQuest student, according to his Facebook page, friends and former Santa Rosa High teacher Jan Sofie.

While he’d relocated to the Bay Area since attending SAE Expression College, Santa Rosa still drew him back, including a camping trip to Spring Lake in recent years where he brought Bay Area friends and co‑workers.

Clark was living in Oakland in a Victorian dream home he bought in the Fruitvale neighborhood, not far from the warehouse.

Early Saturday, as news of the fire spread, friends posted Facebook messages, mixing with their fear Clark had gotten caught in the fire and their hope he’d escaped or hadn’t been there. When he didn’t surface during the weekend they set up a memorial Facebook page for him as a victim of the fire.

One post was from friend David Golightly: “My heart is breaking for Barrett Clark and all those affected by the Oakland fire. He put us up on tour many times and would always get up early and make us food before we hit the road. He’s a real community builder and cultural cornerstone. We geeked out many times over Coil records and gear. Completely in shock.”

Close friend Michael Buchanan said he met Clark in 2000 at a Oregon musical festival and the two then launched an esoteric electronic music collective, Katabatik.

“He was one-of-a-kind. Extremely intelligent, generous, warm, funny. He was a top‑notch sound technician,” said Buchanan, who knew of multiple people attending the warehouse party from among his and Clark’s music community.

Clark had worked at the Ghost Ship before and was aware of what Buchanan described as a labyrinthine layout and unstable stairway to the mezzanine, “...stairs you wouldn’t even consider stairs. They were like treehouse stairs” of wooden pallets and unstable, Buchanan said.

“That venue was known to be dangerous and sketchy and not a fixed space,” he said. “With his dedication to making others sound good, I imagine his ethics superseded maybe his own sense of safety, unfortunately.

“He was extremely smart and physically fit. I believe he knew the score. He knew what smoke meant in that space. We talked about that scenario and he knew where the exits were. I can only imagine he was trying to help others because that was the kind of person he was.”

Sunday night a group of about 15 close friends celebrated Clark’s life at Bottom of the Hill, a popular San Francisco club in the Potrero Hill neighborhood where he was family to employees and club owners. The club was one of several Bay Area venues where Clark for years had worked as a sound engineer.

“To the very minute he passed he was doing the thing he did. Barrett was an amazing sound engineer,” said Ramona Downey, Bottom of the Hill owner and club booking agent. “There were so many bands (who would ask), ‘Is Barrett working sound? We want Barrett.’ Bands loved him so much because he was so competent.”

He also had an infectious laugh, his catchphrase “yeah, yeah, yeah,” if he meant “yes,” and “yeah, yeah, yeah, no” if he meant “no,” said Lynn Schwartz, another Bottom of the Hill owner and close friend. And there was his penchant for sneakily upping the bass – a holdover move from his warehouse music jobs.

Schwartz said Clark attended staff getaway trips and a few years back, suggested the destination.

“We went on a camping trip to Spring Lake in Santa Rosa, where he grew up,” Schwartz said. “And I remember being out alone with him on the lake in his kayaks. He was regaling me with stories about being in those surrounding hills with his hooligan high school buddies, getting up to mischief. He loved growing up there.”

In Santa Rosa Monday, Cindy Young remembered Clark as a talented teenager and close friend to her two sons – all students in Santa Rosa High’s ArtQuest program.

“He was an incredible musician and very gentle soul. He was a master at sound mixing,” said Young.

“I remember my sons hanging out with him all the time. They did gigs in Montgomery Village in the street and they had gigs in my backyard. It was just a really close‑knit group of friends for a while.”

ArQuest teacher Jan Sofie said her son Andrew Sofie, who was a few years behind Clark in school, called her this weekend, worried Clark might have been in the Ghost Ship when it went up in flames.

“I remember (Clark) as just being a really sweet young man, and he was a huge music and arts lover,” Jan Sofie said. “I remembered his face as soon as I heard the name.”

Barrett had a girlfriend and was the only child of Rod and Gail Ann Clark. His mother died in July after a long illness, according to the San Luis Obispo Tribune.

Staff Writer Christi Warren contributed to this report.

You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 707-521-5412 or randi.rossmann@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter@rossmannreport.