EL MONTE (CBSLA.com) — Police say someone on Saturday threw a Molotov cocktail and set off a deadly fire in a South El Monte tire shop that killed at least three people.
Firefighters arrived on the scene and found the family-owned business fully engulfed.READ MORE: Jacqueline Avant Memorial Fund To Benefit New MLK Children's Center In Watts
Officials told CBS2’s Joy Benedict that when they arrived they found a man inside the building alive but they couldn’t get to him because he was behind a locked fence.
That victim was later declared dead. Unconfirmed reports said the victim was possibly a teen.
A firefighter suffered minor, second degree burns while trying to break down the locked fence. The heroic fireman — a 12-year veteran of the force — was later released from the hospital and declined interviews.
The firefighter later returned to the scene. When he returned, his chin clearly burned, he appeared very saddened by the ordeal.
“This isn’t about me,” he reminded reporters. “I’m just glad I can go home to my kids.”
Other firefighters insist the man is a hero.
“When he was cutting with his equipment he had flames and smoke in his face, almost to the point where he couldn’t see what he was doing,” L.A. County Fire Department Inspector Chris Reade said.
During a further investigation, firefighters found the bodies of two adults.
“When the investigation does continue,” said CBS2/KCAL9 reporter Greg Mills, “is there a chance there could be more bodies?”
“We’re going through there and we’re removing more of the rubble, so there is always that chance,” Reade said.
The business is located at 1252 N. Santa Anita Ave.READ MORE: CHiPs For Kids Toy Drive Kicks Off For 2021
Fire officials said the blaze was so intense it started to melt some of their protective equipment.
Witnesses reported the fire shortly before 5:30 a.m. They told an emergency dispatcher three men ran from the scene after one of them threw a Molotov cocktail into the shop.
One man who was inside the tire shop when the fire started was able to hop a fence and escape, according to investigators with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department.
Detectives are officially calling this an arson/ homicide.
KCAL9’s Cristy Fajardo reports investigators are looking for a white Chevy Silverado seen leaving the scene. Neighboring businesses have security cameras, which detectives are hoping will have a clear shot of the vehicle as it fled.
Investigators were on scene trying to establish the official cause of the fire and determine motive for the attack.
The coroner will release the name of the victims pending notification of their next of kin. Detectives told Benedict the teen victim was associated with the store but did not say if he was a family member or employee.
Fajardo saw people who thought their loved ones might be among the dead. The tragedy all the more heartbreaking for them, she said, with the belief the fire was intentionally set.
She also reported that the parents of the family-owned business are believed to have been in Mexico at the time of the attack.
The victims appear to be one female and two males.
Detectives urge anyone with information regarding the fire or the fatalities to call them at (323) 890-5500.MORE NEWS: 14 Killed In San Bernardino Terror Attack Will Be Honored With New Memorial
(©2015 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)