To Robin Cooper, 6 AM seemed awfully early to be testing the smoke alarms.
Property owners say they tested the building a week before.
"I said I wish they'd quit playing with the alarms. Then my husband looked out the window and said something didn’t look right," said Cooper.
As it turns out, the fire alarms weren't a test.
This was the real thing and police officers were quickly on scene making sure everyone evacuated.
"There was smoke at the door so I stopped. I didn't know whether to go out the front or the fire escape,” Cooper told Channel 13 News.
Fire fighters weren't far behind.
In this case, smoke from the third floor unit and the sound of alarms proved just as effective as a call to 9-1-1.
The “Villager” complex is just two blocks away from the fire department.
"We didn't have any people in the building when we got there which helps us a lot. We just focused on the fire,” said Steve Edwards, Chief of the Marshalltown Fire Department.
Fire fighters were able to contain the fire to just one unit and many of the apartments weren't damaged at all.
Still, many tenants will remain in a shelter for the remainder of Sunday night.
It could be another 24 hours before anyone can return home.
"The American Red Cross can set up a shelter. They have emergency cots over there,” said Edwards.
It was a rude wake-up call, but Cooper says she's focusing on the positives.
"Everybody is out. We've had a house fire before and that's the main thing,” said Cooper.
Fire officials say the tenant in the apartment where the fire started had to go to the hospital with minor burns.