Many said they thought it was a drill or malfunction until police knocked and kicked at people's doors. In some cases, police even broke down doors to alert them of the fire.
"When they kicked, I jumped up and went to the door," said Arthur Wesley, 66. "It's just a shame what happened."
Wesley was referring to the death of McClernan, who residents knew as Miss Margie. McClernan was well liked and always greeted fellow residents, they said, describing her as friendly, pleasant, and "really nice."
Jacqueline Goldsmith, a resident of the apartment building for four years, said her great-grandson and McClernan's granddaughter would often play together when they came to visit. "She was really pleasant." said Goldsmith as she tearfully described her neighbor. "I'm just trying to process this whole thing."
The fire caused extensive damage to a portion of the apartment building which contained 24 one and two-bedroom apartments. Dave Schrader, Red Cross communications director, said they helped 21 families find shelter Saturday. Forty-three people were displaced, 14 of them children.
Many of the residents returned to the building later Saturday morning only to retrieve their belongings.
Water, smoke damage and no utilities made it impossible for them to remain. Those who didn't find shelter with friends and family were put up in a nearby hotel.
Contact staff writer Jonathan Lai at email@example.com or 215-854-2771. Follow him on twitter @Elaijuh