Syracuse (WSYR-TV) -- Several families were forced from their homes during a fire at Ballantyne Apartments in Syracuse early Thursday evening.
Everyone survived, but Fire Chief Mark McLees says it could have been a much different situation if the fire had spread four or five hours later when families were asleep.
As fire blew out a first floor window and climbed the wall of her apartment complex, Christina Walker ran toward the smoke.
"I was just banging on the door, yelling and screaming, 'Fire! Fire! Get out! Get out! Fire!' and the smoke came and I grabbed my asthma pump because I have asthma. I took a hit and I went back in," said Walker, who helped alert her neighbors.
With alarms echoing in the courtyard, firefighters raced to the scene just as Thomas Moore ran back inside after helping an elderly friend to safety.
"By the time I got to the second floor, there was so much smoke I had to get back out of there because I got lost. I couldn't see. So I had to get out of there because I didn't want to die too," said Thomas Moore who was rescued by a friend.
Just in time, fire crews arrived to finish the job, scouring the danger zone for people stuck inside, including many young children.
"It was smoke coming in. It was black smoke and it got darker. So, we tried to get out and someone was blocking the door. So then, they made a hole in our door to try to get us out and they banged it down," 11-year-old India Stackhouse told NewsChannel 9.
The construction of the building helped firefighters. It's made of brick and wood, which is slower burning. The fire was out in about 15 minutes, but the work was far from done.
"There are still high levels of carbon monoxide in the building. The firefighters are still wearing masks. So, we have people who were still up there, who have to walk through that. So, we are not letting them out of their apartment yet, because they'd have to walk through the carbon monoxide to get out," said Fire Chief Mclees.
Christina believes there is minor damage to her home, but she's grateful.
"I'm happy because everybody came out alive," Walker said.
Crews are still looking for the cause of the fire, though they believe it started in one of the lower level apartments. Several homes have significant smoke or water damage. The Red Cross provided shelter, food and clothing to five adults and five children who did not have anyplace else to go for the night.