HOUSTON -

More than a dozen people were forced from their homes early Wednesday morning after a fire that spread to five buildings in southeast Houston, firefighters said.

Investigators said when they arrived around 2:45 a.m., a four unit apartment building on Anita Street and Live Oak was fully engulfed in flames. Investigators said that building was vacant, but the fire also impacted several other buildings and homes that were occupied at the time.

Chris Francis said he and his roommates ran out of their house after they realized the building next door was on fire. “It was extremely hot. We couldn't even stand close. The flames were in the street and everything – it was bad,” said Francis.

Francis and his roommates ran to move their vehicles away from the fire, but one of the men was unable to move his car because of the responding fire engines. It was burned even though it was parked across the street. Smoke filled their house and the roof was damaged after the apartment building collapsed onto the structure.

Arson investigators were called to the scene to determine the fire's cause. Though it remains under investigation, an arson investigator told Local 2 the fire started in one of two small homes located to the right of the apartment building. Those two homes were destroyed and an investigators told Local 2 they were both known for drug activity.

The owner of the apartment building that was destroyed told Local 2 he believes the two homes that were destroyed should have been condemned prior to the blaze. “They were in terrible, horrible, condition. How people were living in them, I have no idea,” said Shoja Zaidan. Zaiden and his father said they have spent more than a year and $60,000 to renovate the apartment building.

The apartment building behind it was also damaged. The building's owner said he finished renovating the apartments a couple of months ago. The final tenants just moved in last week. “We just have to see what the insurance company can fix. Just get some people in here and get it salvaged as much as possible,” said owner Casey Thom.

Investigators said at the Red Cross was called in to assist 15 people who were impacted by the fire.

Investigators said a ruptured gas line complicated their efforts. They could not fully extinguish the fire until utility crews off turned the gas line.