Dozens of people are out of their homes after an overnight fire tore through a Coquitlam apartment building.

Residents say they woke up to alarms ringing and the smell of smoke in their low-rise wood-frame building near Foster Avenue and Whiting Way, just off North Road.

Francisca Pena lives around the back of the building, where it’s believed the fire started just after midnight in a nearby suite.

“I heard the alarm going. I was scared because I was deep asleep,” Pena told CTV News. “I opened the window and saw the flames coming out.”

She said neighbours knocked on doors through the building trying to make sure everyone got out OK.

Coquitlam Fire says they had about 40 firefighters on scene and took an aggressive attack, including placing firefighters inside the building and on the roof to stop the flames from spreading. Firefighters from Port Moody were also called in to help.

“A combination of all those aggressive fire tactics is what really preserved the majority of the building in terms of fire damage,” said Coquitlam Fire Chief Jim Ogloff.

It appears the fire wall in the building may have also helped stop the fire from spreading to further suites. The fire department estimates there are about 60 units in the building.

The fire is now out but residents are not allowed in the building. Many are taking shelter at an emergency reception centre nearby. The fire department says between six and nine units have considerable damage. Safety of the building will need to be assessed before anyone is allowed back inside.

Francisca Pena initially wasn’t sure how badly her suite was damaged, but she got a look early Tuesday morning once the sun was up.

The damage to her unit is severe. She did not have insurance.

It’s not clear when the dozens of displaced residents will be allowed back home.

“It’s variable, but certainly the units that have extensive fire damage. Those folks will be out for quite some time,” Ogloff said.

Fire investigators spent Tuesday morning combing through the scene looking for a cause. It’s believed the fire started on the exterior or the building, but so far it does not appear to be suspicious.

Nobody was injured.