The broke out just before 4 a.m. in the 7500 block of Dean Street Southwest, fire officials said. Residents told stories of racing out the door with their children with no time to even grab their shoes, while neighbors said flames were visible shooting from the second floor.
One of those neighbors was Army Ranger Marcus Taylor.
"I was laying in bed with my wife and we heard some kids outside screaming and honking car horns so I looked out the window and the apartment was on fire," Taylor said. "So I just rushed over here and making sure that everyone was getting out OK."
He asked if there was anyone inside the apartment and was told there were still some people trapped on the second floor.
One of those was Liz Harper.
"We couldn't see anything," she said. "I felt hopeless."
As Harper's apartment filled with smoke, she didn't know help was coming in the form of Marcus Taylor, who just got back from Afghanistan last week.
"I climbed up there and heard some rustling around so I kicked in their sliding glass door and helped them get out," Taylor said. "I told them to come to the sound of my voice and then I held their hand while they went down to the ground level."
Taylor suffered some cuts on his right leg from the shattered glass that required stitches but said he'd be OK. Another woman inside the building was treated for smoke inhalation.
Meanwhile, Harper says she wishes she could have given Taylor a hug, but says she's thankful he's close, always there to serve.
"I think about all the ones, there were a lot of people there helping you know, he broke the window and there were a lot of people down there helping so to all them, thank you," she said.
The Red Cross is on hand to help the 19 people were left homeless by the fire, including five children.
Fire investigators are still looking into what started the blaze.