Arson investigators are probing the cause of a fire that left two people dead Tuesday in a one-story strip mall in South Los Angeles, according to officials.
The fire was reported shortly after 5:30 a.m. at a 99 Cents store at 4709 S. Broadway, according to Margaret Stewart, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Fire Department.
Firefighters arriving at the scene saw flames bursting from the front entrance of the business, according to fire officials.
"Access to the unit was hampered by three security devices," said LAFD spokesman David Ortiz. "There was a scissor gates with a padlock, steel doors and two front doors chained up."
He said firefighters had to use a rotary saw while flames were still blowing out of the front entrance.
As about 30 firefighters extinguished the flames, a man and a woman were found in the back of the building and pulled from the structure. The two were taken to a local hospital, where they later died.
"It appears the two people were sleeping in the back," Ortiz said. "We don't know if this was their primary residence."
Ortiz said the unit did not have working smoke alarms. The business did not require sprinklers. A pizza parlor next door suffered fire damage and two other businesses had water damage.
As firefighters mopped up the scene Tuesday morning, Alex Finley looked on. The 28-year-old said she shopped regularly at the now-gutted store. Finley said she feared the man and woman who died were the married couple that had taken over the business four to five months ago. She said she did not know their names.
"They were really, really friendly," Finley said. "They were good people."
Finley said she saw the couple the night before around 9 p.m. when she walked to the store to purchase cigarettes. She didn't think it was the last time she would see them.
Finley said she suspected the couple lived at the store because they were at the business during early morning hours.
The identity of the victims is not yet known, officials said.
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10:40 a.m.: This article was updated with comments from Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman David Ortiz and customer Alex Finley.