But firefighters said all five units in the building were left uninhabitable.
Emergency workers got a 911 call at 9:46 a.m., and battling the blaze wasn't easy. Crews had some trouble at first because the closest fire hydrant was dry. They had to run hoses about two blocks to a working hydrant, but they said the trek did not slow them down too much, because there was already water on their trucks.
Investigators said one of the reasons the families inside made it out safely was there were working smoke detectors.
One woman said she rushed home, because she thought her teenage son was deep asleep inside the building.
"They called me and said, 'Beverly your apartment is on fire,'" resident Beverly Guthrie said. "All I could think was that my son was in there. I rushed back here in a cab. I didn't have any money.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.
The Triangle Area Chapter of the American Red Cross said it's assisting families displaced by the fire with basic emergency needs such as food, clothing, and temporary lodging.
When asked about the faulty fire hydrant, officials told ABC11 a public utilities crew checked the water valve on March 2. It discovered there was a problem, and the entire hydrant needed to be replaced, but they failed to tell the hydrant crew - who would tell the fire department. Firefighters had no idea there was a problem until they tried to use it.
The city said it is about to embark on an inspection of all 25,000 hydrants in the city which should turn up any similar problems.