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'Tough to be without him': Utah native one of 36 killed in Oakland fire

OGDEN — Robert Lapine remembers his son Edmond as a "gentle soul."

"Edmond was the type of person — when you met him, he was genuine, he was honest and he just loved people," Lapine recalled from his Ogden home Tuesday. "He was very, very accommodating."

Edmond Lapine, 34, was one of 36 victims killed in a catastrophic fire that tore through a converted warehouse Dec. 2 in Oakland, California. His father said he grew up in Ogden and Park City before leaving for college in Colorado and Washington state.

Since learning his son was among the victims in the deadliest fire in the United States in more than a decade, Lapine has been troubled by what he imagines were his son's final moments.

"I … spent so many years in Vietnam and I don't fathom what it was like for him being in that building when the lights went out and it was pitch black. (There was) smoke — and the fear," he said. "So that's what I think about. And it's tough to talk about him."

Authorities say the former warehouse where the fire occurred was converted into artist studios and some people illegally lived there. A dance party was underway in the building when the fire ignited, potentially because of an electrical issue with a refrigerator or another appliance, the Associated Press reported.

The fire is believed to be accidental, but investigators are looking into the building's history and prosecutors have said criminal charges are possible.

Lapine said his son eventually made his way to the Bay Area because he was passionate about the music scene there. Edmond Lapine, who had played in some rock bands when he lived in Park City, was self-taught in guitar and his dream was to be a DJ.

"He met a group of people who had the same likes in music as he did and they would always congregate together in the San Francisco area, Oakland area and they would go to different concerts and (raves)," he said. "Over the years, he became very close to some of these people that also perished in the fire."

Only about 90 percent of the building had been sorted through as of Tuesday, but investigators don't expect the death toll to rise. The unexamined portion of the building is still unstable.

Lapine is traveling to Oakland on Wednesday to "make the final arrangements" on behalf of his son. He also wants to show his gratitude to those who have combed through the devastating scene.

"It's tough to go into that situation," he said. "I just want to thank the people in Oakland for doing what I think is a great job in recovering the victims (and for the) hazards that the firemen went through to get the victims out."

After the trip, Edmond's loved ones will need to find a way to heal and move forward, his father said. He said he will miss talking with his son and sharing in experiences with him.

"He was a very gracious person," he said, succumbing to tears. "It's tough to be without him."