A two-alarm fire destroyed eight apartment homes early Thursday morning.
The Nashville Fire Department was dispatched to Cobblestone Corners, located at 501 Ben Allen Road in east Nashville, around 4:30 a.m.
"[When] first crews arrived on scene, they had heavy flames coming through the roof on the apartment," said District Fire Chief Tim Moyers.
Chief Moyers told Nashville's News 2 the fire likely started in a lower level apartment home, but quickly spread to seven occupied units and one vacant unit.
"I told my mom-in-law and them, 'We need to get out,'" resident Brenda Rutledge Davis said, "because you could feel it from the floor. You could feel the heat."
Rutledge Davis was one of 16 adults and four children who escaped the blaze in pajamas and bare feet.
"I couldn't get [my] shoes. I had to run out. I couldn't do [anything]," she said.
In the minutes before emergency crews arrived, neighbors went door-to-door to alert other neighbors.
Other residents had to be rescued by firefighters.
"They had to pull some people out on the backside," Chief Moyers said.
"These apartments, what you see, there's a mirror of that on the backside. So you have the same amount of apartments on the rear, so they had to pull the people out on the rear when they got here," he added.
"I smelled smoke and my bathroom looked kind of funny looking," said resident Dorothy Hayes, "but I said, 'I don't see [any] smoke.'"
Hayes got emotional as she continued, "That's when the firemen come and beat on the door and said, 'Get out! Get out! Get out!'"
Once outside, residents could only watch as firefighters tried to douse the flames that ripped through one apartment after another.
The sight was too much for Robin Keesee, who turned away from the scene in anguish.
"So far it hasn't burned yet, but I'm getting ready to lose it! I'm getting ready to lose everything," she sobbed.
Fire officials believe timing may have allowed the fire to spread more quickly, because most residents were sleeping and didn't immediately notice the smoke or flames.
"We stood there for fifteen to thirty minutes and watched our apartment burn down. It was devastating," said resident Ronald Davis.
After more than an hour of battling the blaze, firefighters on the ground were forced to back off and use aerial trucks and hoses.
"Our priority is to attack the fire and save as much property as we can," said Chief Moyers. "Whenever the trucks go up and water is going through a building like this, we're pretty much calling it 'done' from a firefighting standpoint. We try to let that be our last decision on the scene."
When the flames were gone so were the roof and everything inside. The entire building was left charred and gutted.
As displaced residents gathered in the apartment clubhouse, one person, who previously refused treatment, was taken to the hospital for minor burns. Another person was also taken to the hospital for injuries unrelated to the fire.
The American Red Cross gave all those affected by the fire emergency food and clothing. At least two families were provided with housing assistance.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.