Three of the boys had been in the cramped and dark building, Thomas said, but one got separated from them 30 seconds before someone yelled, "Fire."Kai Thomas and a group of red-eyed classmates from an arts high school in San Francisco pressed against police tape Sunday near the street corner where the "Ghost Ship," a warehouse converted to artist studios and illegal living spaces, rapidly went up in flames late Friday, taking the life of a friend.

Firefighters had searched less than half the building and expected more warehouse as they worked around the clock to remove debris bucket by bucket."When we started this investigation, if you had told us that you would have 33 victims, we wouldn't have believed you," Kelly said. "I don't know how many people are left in there.

The boys waited for their 17-year-old friend for more than three hours, but he never emerged."It was just really smoky and hard to see," said Thomas, a high school junior who wasn't there, but recounted what he had been told by two others who didn't want to speak. "They jumped off the second-floor balcony and ran out."

Lists of the missing circulated and many of those who had been unable to reach friends in the past two days had given up hope when authorities said people either escaped without injury or died inside.

The district attorney's sent a team to search for signs of a crime in the warehouse that was already under investigation by the city for possible code violations. The space was only permitted as a warehouse and neighbours had complained of trash piling up and people were illegally living thereThey wouldn't give his name, but the victims included a 17-year-old, as well as people from Europe and Asia and some over 30, said Alameda County Sheriff's Sgt Ray Kelly said.

Officials had identified eight of the dead - at least seven of them using fingerprints, but told family members of the missing that they may need to use DNA for more difficult identifications.