Friday morning began normally enough for Robert Kowalk.

He left his apartment in downtown Kitchener to take his dog for a walk and pick up breakfast.

Kowalk was shocked with what he saw when he returned home.

“People were telling me not to go in. I went up and noticed there was like a burning on the door. I opened the door and there was too much smoke.”

Kowalk’s unit, on the upper floor of 37 King Street West, had caught fire in his absence.

His neighbours were alerted by the smoke alarm, while others heard banging at their door.

“I saw all the people out in the hall,” says Yvonne Tenant. “We just congregated and watched. Next thing we know the police come and say: ‘get out, get out, get out.’”

Some residents fled the building by the back fire escape.

“One of our crews assisted them down and gave them medical aid until paramedics got there,” says Assistant Platoon Chief Blake Moggy.

Two people were taken to hospital where they were treated for smoke inhalation.

Eight people have been displaced and are being helped by the Red Cross.

Damage to the building is estimated at $350,000.

Most of that damage was to the unit where the fire started.

“I just don’t know what happened,” says Kowalk.

With reporting by Abigail Bimman