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California apartment fire kills 2, injures 18

LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Investigators combed through an apartment complex yesterday, trying to determine what caused a fire that killed two people, injured 18 others, and forced rescuers to pull trapped residents from balconies.

"There are clues leading them to believe that it might have been an accidental grease fire that spread into the ventilation units," Fire Department Captain Jim Arvizu said.

Arvizu said there were two confirmed fatalities, both residents of the building who were found inside. He had no other details.

Two of the injured were taken to hospitals in critical condition, five were in stable condition, and five were treated at the scene, he said.

Six firefighters also suffered minor injuries, ranging from smoke inhalation to dehydration, authorities said. One of them was taken to a hospital with burns, fire spokesman Chris Milburn.

Flames and smoke poured out of holes in the roof along the Paradise Garden Apartments, a sprawling, four-story complex. Milburn said the fire burned on three floors but was mostly active on the top floor.

At least 200 firefighters battled the blaze Friday evening. About 140 units in the 320-apartment complex were damaged, the fire chief said. Displaced residents were housed in a nearby high school, where Red Cross officials set up cots and provided food and clothing.

Keith Bigham, 50, said he was sleeping when he heard a commotion from the building courtyard. He opened his door to the hallway and found it pitch black and filled with smoke.

After grabbing his keys, checkbook and wallet, Bigham opened his front door but it was too hot, so he headed for his balcony. He waited for about 10 minutes until firefighters helped him down.

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