By Jermont Terry

CHICAGO (CBS) — Christmas started in fear for more than 24 families forced out of the Palos Hills apartments by fire.

It was heartache and panic for the families. They were awakened Christmas morning by smoke-filled hallways and the sounds of fire alarms.

“The entire building, every unit had smoke filled in it,” said Jennifer Huffine.

Huffine stepped outside to find firefighters working to get things under control. She also spotted her neighbors freezing, forced outside on the coldest day of the season.

“I ran into a couple about my age,” she said. “They had a turtle in their hands with a little wheel. They had a dog in the other. They grabbed what they could. They didn’t have much. They were going to their car. They had tears in their eyes. I just started crying for them because I felt so bad.”

According to the Red Cross, 56 people, including 12 children are among those displaced by the Christmas Day fire. In addition to helping families, the agency tried to bring a little holiday cheer.

“There were some children that were able to make at least a little happier. We did give out 12 Mickey Mouse Toys,” said Hank Welch, with the American Red Cross.

While this fire displaced the most people, Red Cross volunteers were exceptionally busy this holiday.

“We’ve had eight house or apartment fires, which we responded to today,” said Hank Welch with the American Red Cross.

In Palos Hills, it is believed the fire started in the window in the laundry room. The boiler, but the exact cause remains under investigation.