Shocked residents who were permitted to re-enter Coolmoyne House last night were reduced to tears as they came to terms with what had happened.
There are 56 flats in the high-rise block in Dunmurry, but 16 tenants were unable to return to their homes after firefighters had brought the blaze under control.
They were either put in temporary accommodation in hotels, or found shelter with friends and family.
The Housing Executive said that the affected flats suffered smoke and water damage, while others had been totally gutted.
Kathy Kerr (30), who lives on the fourth floor, said that she only realised what was happening when she heard her neighbour screaming.
"There were no fire alarms, nothing," she explained.
"My friend saw blue flashing lights and had to ask what it was.
"It was only when I saw my neighbour screaming in the hallway and there were loads of other people running.
"There was no warning whatsoever.
"Once we went to the front door we could smell the smoke. It was a disgrace."
Ms Kerr, who stayed at her mother's house nearby last night, said that the blaze had left her living in fear. She said: "I really don't want to be in my flat tonight and I wont be going back there tonight. It has made me feel unsafe, and I was scared of heights in the first place.
"I've never experienced something like this and I never want to experience it ever again.
"I've been here six years and I've never seen anything like it.
"Thank God it ended up better than I expected - but it was so scary."
Martin Boyle (37), who was in Kathy's flat at the time, hadn't realised the immediate danger either.
"I noticed the fire engines turning towards our building and I thought it was the wrong address and they just needed somewhere to turn around in," he said.
"But we realised when there were other people arriving that something more serious was going on."
One man, who did not want to be named, said that people on the 14th floor were trapped during the emergency.
"I'm sure the people in the surrounding buildings are sat looking at this block opposite wondering if it's going to be happening to them," he said.
"As far as I know everyone is all right, but after Grenfell people have been sat with the jitters and worrying.
"I won't be going back to my flat tonight. The fire just caught so quickly, even though it's a calm night.
"It's like a wind tunnel in this area and it could have been so much worse."