It started with a cry in the dark. Then came the smoke and flames.

And now, 13 families are left sifting through the rubble after losing their homes to an early morning fire Thursday at Hampton Oaks Apartments in North Charleston.

“Technically we’re homeless now,” 22-year-old resident Brooke Tesner said, hours after waking around 5 a.m. to a smoke-filled apartment, and mere minutes after coming to accept that she had lost everything in the blaze. She had lived at the complex for only about five months.

By noon Thursday, Tesner, a College of Charleston student, found herself seeking food and temporary shelter at Grace Alliance Church on Northside Drive, alongside several other displaced residents.

The rush of adrenaline that carried her through the morning had begun to fade. Tesner found comfort in knowing that each resident made it out of the building alive.

But now they were all faced with a new task, she said. Moving forward.

Tesner tugged at the leash that restrained her 6-month-old Great Dane, Adi, as she recalled the events that led her to that point.

She awoke to the cries of her roommate’s brother, 25-year-old William Buchanan, alerting her to a fire that quickly spread throughout the building.

Buchanan had been in the area for less than 24 hours after completing a road trip from New Mexico. He expected to move in with his sister and Tesner before the blaze disrupted his plans.

Neighbors knocked on doors to ensure that everyone made it out of the building, Buchanan said.

“In that moment you can either adopt the every-man-for-himself mentality, or you can choose to help one another. Fortunately, in this case, the residents took the time to make sure that everyone made it out OK,” Buchanan said.

North Charleston firefighters were called to the fire that sparked around 5:15 a.m. and fully engulfed the complex’s 400 building at 6600 Rivers Ave., Fire Department spokeswoman Bianca Bourbeau said. The complex is about half a mile south of Trident Technical College.

Smoke and flames had breached the roof of the two-story building, which contained about 27 people. The building was evacuated while firefighters attacked the flames, Bourbeau said.

According to American Red Cross spokeswoman Lisa Quick, authorities used a CARTA bus to take displaced residents, including a teenager, a baby and three dogs, to nearby Stall High School for relief from the morning’s 40-degree temperatures.

They were met there by Red Cross volunteers who provided financial assistance for lodging, food, clothing and medical services, Quick said.

Volunteers remained with residents throughout the day, and assisted in their transfer to Grace Alliance Church for lunch.

The ordeal was Hampton Oaks’ second fire in as many days, Bourbeau said.

Crews responded to the complex’s 700 building around 2:30 p.m. Wednesday and extinguished flames in one unit’s bathroom.

Residents on Thursday speculated about whether the fires were related, possibly due to old wiring.

“I’m moving out of here as soon as my lease is up,” said resident Drewmont McClendon. He wasn’t displaced in the fire.

“The fire department had to come to my apartment one time because an outlet started smoking. The wiring around here is so old. I can’t take it,” he said.

The cause of both fires remains under investigation, Bourbeau said. No injuries were reported in either incident.

The Red Cross is seeking help in assisting people in time of need. To donate, call 764-2323.

Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908 or at