South Carolina At least two firefighters died battling a blaze at a furniture store and several other rescuers were missing, Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley said early today.
"This is a tragic matter," he said.
The fire broke out late Monday, forcing officials to close off part of a nearby roadway. Firefighters continued working past midnight.
Witnesses said the store's roof collapsed and sent debris over about two dozen rescue workers. Spectators were hit with flying ash.
"It was like a 30-foot tornado of flames," said Mark Hilton, a witness.
Riley said he thought all of the store's employees escaped. At least one worker was taken to the hospital.
Daniel Shahid, a salesman at a nearby car dealership, said firefighters came in asking for towels. "The next thing you know, we were carrying hoses, directing traffic, everybody from the dealership," he said.
Riley called the missing firefighters heroes.
"This is a profession that we must never take for granted," the mayor said. "There's a fire raging and they go toward it."