When can we go back in? Do we go ahead and pay the rent? Did you get the pictures? Where's your dog? Questions like these and many more could be heard late Thursday morning from residents of the Royal Manor Apartment Complex on Lillian Street as they watched firefighters battle fire and smoke that sent them out into the streets.

The fire apparently started in the first floor apartment of Andy Perdew and made its way up to the apartment above.

“We were asleep and we heard Andy yelling ‘fire,'” said resident Raymond Crumrine. “We're next door and upstairs from him. We got out cats and got out.”

Penny Elliott, owner of the apartments, said the complex was built in 1976 and that this was the first fire in its history. She and the apartment manager handed out water to exhausted firefighters as they rotated in and out of the building, when their oxygen alarms sounded the 10-minute warning escape time.

Stephenville Fire Chief Jimmy Chew said about 20 on and off duty firemen as well as volunteers responded to the alarm.

“It was an early alarm so we got a good start on it,” Chew said.

Chew said a preliminary investigation indicates that the fire began in a bathroom exhaust fan in the first floor apartment, but the exact reason as to how the fire got started is not known. “It took approximately two hours until we had it contained,” Chew said.

Firefighter Tommy Owens was transported by ambulance to Harris Methodist Erath County Hospital after becoming overheated. He was treated and released.

Chew said only five apartments will not be inhabitable and arrangements were being made to house those residents.

ANGELIA JOINER is a staff writer for the Empire-Tribune. She can be reached at angelia.joiner@empiretribune.com or 254-965-3124, ext. 238.