The search continues for anyone who may still be inside. Firefighters say the building has more than 80 residents who were asleep when the fire began.
"I told him baby, I said I'm scared we're going to die in here," said LaTonda Kerry, a resident.
Some say they didn't hear fire alarms inside their apartments.
"But our neighbor across the hall thank God for him he banged on that door so hard and loud and that's what woke me up," said Karen Redus, a resident.
Battalion Chief says 86 tenants in building. 1 fatality, 4 injured (smoke inhalation), 7 rescued by firefighters— Melanie Woodrow (@MelanieWoodrow) March 27, 2017
Many said they were trapped. "That fire was hot enough to cook a turkey," said a man who identified himself as New York Tone.
"My brain was clicking which way do I go," said Redus.
Firefighters say they rescued 15 people, some hanging from windows, others on fire escapes.
"We went to the window pulled the curtain back and started waving," said Kerry.
"It really was a challenge to get to all these people," said Oakland Fire Battalion Chief Erik Logan.
Four people including two children had smoke inhalation.
Residents swaddled in blankets later went to a nearby church. The Red Cross is providing assistance.
As Firefighters investigate the cause, there are questions about living conditions inside the building.
"If any building around here needed to be rehabbed that one did right there," said a man who did not give ABC7 News his name.
Attorney James Cook is representing tenants in the building.
"There's virtually like a river on the first floor with wires exposed to it, there's toilets overflowing, a lot of people with mental health issues so they're hoarding in their apartments," said Cook.
It's unclear what role if any those conditions played in the fire.