The fire broke out just after midnight at an apartment building at 505 Law Road.
When firefighters arrived at the scene, flames were shooting through the roof.
"It was amazing. It was like rolling fire. It was something you'd have to see to believe," resident James Griffin said.
Firefighters said the top priority was making sure everyone in the building got out safely.
"We managed to get them all across the street and were able to provide blankets," battalion chief Tim Oloane said. "A lot of them were able to grab their coats and shoes before they got out."
It took crews about an hour to get the fire under control.
Four units were destroyed and eight others have smoke damage.
Many units were decorated for the holidays with gifts already under the tree.
"It's really, really, a lump in my throat right now," Griffin said.
"It's devastating to see [this] so close to Christmas -- for the families, Christmas won't be the same," said Kris Church, the nephew of a fire victim.
Crews spent the morning clearing debris and salvaging whatever they could.
The Red Cross provided shelter at a Spring Lake motel for the 16 people who were evacuated.
No one was injured.
Copyright 2023 by Capitol Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.