PATERSON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – Firefighters battled flames, heat and heavy smoke as a five-alarm fire tore through four neighboring homes overnight in Paterson, New Jersey.

Crews were called to Summer Street near Cedar Street around 1:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Witnesses said the fire quickly spread from house to house. Three were severely damaged, and the fourth had damage to its attic.

Multiple families lived in each home, and fire officials said 44 people were displaced.

Charles Harris was fast asleep when the smell of smoke woke him up.

“I looked around in my apartment and was like no. Then I looked outside the back window and I seen the back burning upstairs,” he told CBS2’s Aundrea Cline-Thomas.

He made it out with only his money and the clothes on his back.

“When my cousin came and rang on the doorbell and he said fire, I was like oh my god,” said 9-year-old Adrian Abreu, who lives a few doors down. “Mostly scared and nervous. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Firefighters had to rotate in and out to battle the flames as the intense heat took its toll.

A fire captain and battalion chief from the Paterson Fire Department were taken to the hospital with heat exhaustion. Other firefighters were assessed by medical personnel on the scene.

“Firefighters were getting pretty overwhelmed with the heat, it came on kind of sudden. So it was a very physical fire,” Fire Chief Brian McDermott said.

Once the fire was out, crews went door to door to assess the damage. A Red Cross shelter was set up at police headquarters to help the displaced residents.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.