The six-alarm fire happened early Saturday morning just off Paradise Drive on Upland Circle. It took firefighters nearly five hours to put it out and now some are criticizing their efforts.
A fire in an apartment complex at 1 a.m. is often deadly.
Many people inside the 20 units in Corte Madera were sleeping when it started in a second-story apartment.
"Around one 1:00 we heard an explosion on the 2nd floor," said resident Marilic Faria.
Some of the residents went door-to-door alerting neighbors to get out. A dog was killed in the fire.
"They had to leave to leave their dog Mosely and he died in the fire," said resident Sharon Thom while recalling the experience.
Sharon and her son Austin say their apartment suffered smoke and water damage. All their belongings worth saving can now fit inside their van.
"We're at a hotel now. Don't know. We're going to see what we can salvage. I'm sure things will be okay in the end," said resident Austin Thom.
All the residents were going to be forced out on January 18th for renovations. One of the additions is going to be fire sprinklers, something firefighters say this building was not required to have when it was built.
Some of the residents we spoke with Saturday said they never heard a smoke or fire alarm, and complained that firefighters were slow to realize the flames were spreading through the walls up into the attic.
"They got it under control, the first floor, but they didn't know that this building was very old and didn't have the insulation. So, the fire went through the wall and went through the roof, and burned the third floor right away and exploded everything," said Faria.
Firefighters said the old building had a lot of concealed spaces but say they were aware minutes after the initial knockdown that the flames were spreading.
"We declared knocked down about 1:40 and shortly thereafter, three to four minutes, we noticed a large amount of smoke emanating from the fourth-story eves. At that point we realized the fire probably climbed the walls and was in the attic at that point," said Battalion Chief Paul Hager.
Firefighters were dealing with tight spaces as well. Many trucks had to park on Paradise Drive below the entrance to the apartment complex. A one-lane road led up to it and a small adjacent parking lot.
It took 75 firefighters several hours to put out the flames. Some even said this was one of the biggest they've ever fought in Marin County. But when it was all, over every single resident walked out of it alive.
"One in the morning? It's amazing no one got hurt. Thank god no one got hurt," said resident Tony Daglia.
Several of the residents are being put up in local hotels by the Red Cross.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.