Gainesville Fire Chief Jon Canada said three city stations responded to a fire at Glenn Cove Apartments on Norton Drive. The call came in about 5:40 p.m. Canada said the fire had been contained after about 14 minutes.
When the first crew arrived, "there was heavy smoke and flames showing from the rear of the structure," Canada said.
He said he does not yet have an accurate count of the number of people living in the affected apartments.
Melanie Delcid was in the apartment when she saw flames coming from a closet.
She said she grabbed a fire extinguisher from her kitchen and tried to use it to put out the flames, but she said it only got worse.
She said she threw the extinguisher down and ran to warn other residents.
"I had 911 on one ear and was knocking on people's doors with the other hand," she said. "I had to go to some apartments three or four times before they could answer the door. I thought people would die in there."
Jenny McDonald, Lisa McDonald and four children also live in the apartment building. Jenny McDonald was at work when she found out about the blaze.
"I tried to go back three times to get a box of pictures," Lisa McDonald said. "But I couldn't make it."
Canada said the Red Cross would be available to help those in need.
"We don't know what we're going to do," Jenny McDonald said. "My kids, they're going to be without clothes. They're about to start school."
Resident Jason Mangum also was concerned for his children.
"It's two weeks before school starts, and now everything's gone," he said. "School supplies, everything."
Mangum was at work when the fire started, but his wife, Natasha, and five children were at home.
"It looks like the boys' bedroom is gone," he said. "And the girls' bedroom got hit."
He said a mattress in the boys' room was in flames at one point.
"We're losing everything," he said. "It's just devastating."
Officials are still investigating the origin of the fire, Canada said.