Avila credited residents for trying to help but said people should not endanger themselves by trying to help the Fire Department.
He added the fire was not a difficult blaze to fight.
"The problem wasn't extinguishing the fire," he said. "The problem was having to wait around to get enough firefighters on scene."
The law states a firefighter cannot enter a burning building unless another firefighter enters with him and another two firefighters are outside the building.
Avila said shortly before the call came in crews had been called to two medical aid calls.
When enough firefighters arrived, Avila said crews entered the apartment and started to battle the blaze from the inside.
He said the fire was quickly extinguished and was limited to one of five apartments in the complex.
Ten firefighters responded, including off-duty personnel.
Four families were allowed to return to their apartments. The apartment that was damaged by fire was condemned. Five people, including children ages 5 to 10, lived in that apartment.
No one was injured in the fire, which caused about $75,000 in damages.
Avila said firefighters think an explosion from a short circuit in a television sparked the fire, although the specific cause had yet to be officially declared.
Avila said Sunday's fire is an example of how a shortage of firefighters can hamper responses. He said the department should have 24 firefighters but is down to 16.
He said the city ideally should have one firefighter per 1,000 residents.
Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.