SOUTH PASADENA, Calif. -- Firefighters searched the rubble of a gutted hardware store today for four people reported missing in a fire that injured one employee and did more than $2 million damage.
'We cannot account for four people,' said South Pasadena Fire Chief Gene Murry.
'We cannot account for two employees and there are two other civilians we cannot account for.'
The search of Ole's Home Center was hampered by nearly an acre of roofing that collapsed Wednesday night, gutting the building.
'Now we've got to go through the grim task piece by piece of finding out who is in there and why this fire moved so fast,' Murry said.
Arson investigators were investigating the hardware store fire and another at a supermarket about a mile away that broke out within minutes of each other.
Shoppers were in the store when the fire erupted about 8 p.m. Wednesday and went 'flashing across the entire ceiling,' Murry said.
He said he was baffled by the speed of the fire because it apparently originated in an electrical appliance section, an area without such flammable liquids as paint and solvent, which exploded later as the fire spread.
At one point, 32 fire companies with 125 firefighters fought the blaze.
Nearly eight hours after it started, billows of white smoke still clouded the night sky, drifting into three adjacent apartment complexes where more than 100 people were evacuated.
Some of the residents took refuge at a hastily organized Red Cross shelter in the Pasadena War Memorial Building across the street and were provided with food and clothing.
A hardware store employee, Jim Obdan, 18, of South Pasadena, was treated and released from Huntington Memorial Hospital with second-degree burns on his hands and face.