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Chunk of city block destroyed by fast-moving flames in South L.A.

A fast-moving fire tore through a block of industrial buildings in South Los Angeles early Wednesday, destroying several businesses and putting nearby residents on edge.

The three-alarm fire started just after 1 a.m. inside a business in the 5800 block of South Hooper Avenue in unincorporated Florence-Firestone, authorities said. It took 250 firefighters to knock down the blaze.

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Investigators were still combing through the rubble Wednesday afternoon to determine the cause of the fire and the extent of the damage, said Chris Reade, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Fire Department. He said several businesses, all physically connected, were destroyed, including a welding shop, a furniture reupholstery business and a small market.

"We're trying to determine how many units were involved," Reade said. "It's hard to tell where one building ends and one begins. We're trying to find out what is what and what belongs to who."

Several people who worked in the area told The Times that people were living in one of the industrial buildings that burned.

By midmorning Wednesday, Marco Bautista, 38, sat in an empty parking lot across a big pile of blackened, twisted metal. The rubble used to be a commercial building with several businesses inside, including his bedding and furniture store, Westside Feather and Down. It was a total loss.

At 2 a.m., Bautista got a call from another business owner and rushed to his store. He'd been working in the area for 10 years and had been in the process of getting insurance for his store. But it was too late.

"It's one of those unfortunate things," he said. "All I can do now is move forward."

Pedro Gutierrez and his wife, Francisca Johnson, stood at the corner of 58th Place and Hooper Avenue staring at the smoldering wreckage of their business, a sofa and mattress shop called Sofaworks.

"It's gone now," Johnson said as her husband spoke to an insurance company over the phone. "The machinery, the delivery trucks and the inventory: gone."

Gutierrez, 52, started the business from his home in the mid-1990s, repairing a sofa frame he found on the street and reselling it. He expanded the business and had been working on 58th Place since 2001.

Johnson said that just a day earlier she and her husband were rushing to complete an order worth $20,000. It was all lost.

The couple was sleeping when they got an early morning call from a bar near their business.

"They told us the business was on fire," Johnson said. "My husband didn't believe it. I didn't believe it."

The only good news for the couple, Johnson said, was that their two guard dogs, Gato and Shakira, survived. They had been inside the business when the fire began, but firefighters rescued them.

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Roscoe Pyles, 86, woke up to the blare of fire trucks across the street from his 58th Street home. When he looked out the kitchen window, flames from the massive fire had turned the night sky into an orange glow.

He eyed the wooden pallets stacked up at the factory behind his home and prayed the fire didn't jump the street.

Pyles, a retired Lockheed Martin structural mechanic, has lived in a tidy white house in the neighborhood since 1944. There have always been warehouses and homes in close proximity, which he called a recipe for disaster.

"It's a mess," Pyles said. "I don't think they should have pallets near residences. It's a fire hazard. It's nothing but wood."

On 58th Street, Rogelio Castillo, 56, said a tenant living in a guesthouse behind his home came and knocked on his door around 2 a.m. to warn him about the fire.

"The whole block came out to look," Castillo said. "We were worried because we didn't want embers flying into our homes."

Los Angeles City Councilman Curren Price said "crazy zoning" has allowed the industrial buildings to exist alongside family homes. Price surveyed the damage to businesses along a stretch of Slauson Avenue on Wednesday morning.

"It's a real tragedy," he said. "These are mom-and-pop shops."

Times staff writer Veronica Rocha contributed to this story.

For breaking news in California, follow @LATvives@AngelJennings and @haileybranson.

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