Three people were killed and three others injured in a spectacular fire yesterday morning at the Singer Furniture Co. plant in Roanoke that filled much of the downtown with smoke and snarled traffic as emergency vehicles were rushed to the scene.

The fire started about 7 a.m. in a kiln where lacquer is baked onto furniture, according to employes. About 40 workers in the three-story building were evacuated as the fire spread rapidly, filling the building with smoke.

"I heard a bang and a boom and I saw flames coming from the roof -- so I ran," employe Ernest Rhoades said.

The victims, all employes at the plant, were apparently trapped on the third floor, where the finishing section is located, according to Fire Chief Jerry Curley. He said attempts to rescue them were thwarted when the roof collapsed in a roar of flames.

The finishing area went up like "a tinderbox" with flames visible for miles, said Assistant Fire Chief Harry McKinney.

The names of the dead were withheld pending notification of next of kin. One employe was hospitalized with extensive third-degree burns and two others were treated for minor injuries and released.

Acrid black smoke blanketed downtown Roanoke and a rush-hour traffic jam developed as police blocked roads for ambulances and fire trucks. It took nearly three hours to bring the flames under control.

Employe Earl Miller, 56, was hospitalized in guarded but stable condition with third-degree burns. Two other employes, Estelle Stuart and Frank Lee, were treated for minor burns and abrasions and released, hospital officials said.

The plant manufactures bedroom furniture with a staff of about 600 company officials said.