The incident happened around 7 p.m. Friday at El Paisano Ranch Market in the 200 block of Pacific Coast Highway. The victim, identified only as a 54-year-old man, was sitting on the ground outside the market waiting for his elderly father shopping inside when his assailant walked by, tossed a Molotov cocktail at him and ran away.
"He was just sitting there minding his own business," said a friend of the victim, who did not want to be identified. She said she was standing near him when he was attacked.
"We looked at (the suspect) and he started shaking the bottle and then he turned it on," she said. "When he threw it, he hit him toward his face and his arm, and that's when he caught on fire."
Bystanders, including a woman with a stroller, scrambled to get away from the flames as the victim ran toward the parking lot, where good Samaritans helped put out the fire.
The victim was in critical, but stable condition at the hospital. He suffered serious burns from his waist to his feet.
The victim lives a few blocks away from the market. His neighbors said he lived alone.
"He's got along well with everyone," his neighbor Imelda Mariano said in Spanish. She added that he was always nice to her and other neighbors.
Norma Perez, who works at a restaurant just down the street from the market, said the victim was a regular customer who was well liked and charitable.
"All the time when people came here and didn't have enough money he paid the food for the people, and he took for everybody on the street," Perez said.
Detectives said they have no motive for the attack.
"At this point we don't have any information about the motive or why this incident happened," said Sgt. Aaron Eaton of the Long Beach Police Department. "There's no indication at all that the victim and the suspect knew each other."
The suspect was described as a male Hispanic 25 to 30 years old, about 5-foot-9 and around 180 pounds. He was wearing a light-colored short-sleeve shirt with vertical stripes.
The victim's friend said she hopes police find the suspect soon.
"I'm still in shock. I'm scared," she said. "I can't go to sleep at night. I close my eyes and I see him in flames."
Anyone with information was asked to call police at (562) 570-2582.