An early morning fire gutted a Peoples Drug Store outlet at Pennsylvania and Minnesota Avenues SE yesterday, causing damage estimated at $550,000.

The three-alarm fire, which started at 2:38 a.m., also slightly damaged a beauty salon next door in the small one-story shopping center, said Fire Department Capt. Richard Clark, head of the fire investigations unit.

The fire was under control by 4:05 a.m., fire officials said. The cause of the blaze is under investigation.

The fire started in the drugstore's first floor and caused parts of the roof to cave in, Clark said. Contents in a downstairs section were also ruined, he said.

Four firefighters were treated for smoke inhalation and cuts at Southeast Community Hospital. All were released, a fire department spokesman said.

Also damaged was the former Hodge's Modern Beauty Salon, next door to the drugstore. Willie Hodge, who owned the salon for 15 years before selling it recently, said the fire department did "a terrific job" in containing the fire and not allowing the worst flames to reach the salon. The salon has been closed briefly for renovations under its new owner, Hodge said.

Neither Peoples officials nor the salon's new owner could be reached for comment.