A couple and their 4-year-old son had to leap 18 feet to the ground after heavy smoke and flames engulfed their apartment.
A fourth person in another apartment also had to jump from a balcony to the group. He was treated at an area hospital.
All four are OK. Dozens of residents were forced out of their homes after the blaze ripped through the Duquesne Village Apartments near Parvin Road in the Northland.
The fire and smoke were so intense at the apartment complex when Sharee White, her boyfriend, Curtis Newman, and 4-year-old son Darian Hayward woke up in their third-story apartment.
They tried the front door but found the hallway filled with choking black smoke. They could see the balcony was on fire. They made a split-second decision to jump from their window.
"My main thing was trying to get us out of there," Newman said. "By the time we got out, the whole apartment was engulfed with fire."
He said he knew there was no time to wait for fire trucks to arrive as they were coughing and sputtering from the thick smoke..
"Smoke was everywhere and I couldn't see," White said, adding she couldn't breathe. "I panicked. We were trapped on either side . . . . We were going to do what we have got to do."
The three-alarm fire broke out just before 1:30 a.m. Tuesday. Many residents woke to the sound of neighbors banging their doors.
When firefighters arrived on the scene, large flames could be seen shooting out of the apartment complex.
The fire damaged about 12 units in three different buildings.
Investigators believe the fire started in a first-floor apartment. The cause is still under investigation.
Newman jumped first and hit the ground, shattering his ankle. Ignoring the pain and adrenaline coursing through him, he jumped up to catch Darian whose mother tossed him down to Newman.
"She threw him out and I caught him and as I caught him I went down, so he wouldn't hit the concrete. I kind of stopped the fall," he said.
Darian was checked out and didn't suffer a scratch or any long-lasting physical harm.
When White jumped, she landed on her tailbone, which caused her to fracture two vertebrae.
Darian gave White a big high five and "thank you" for catching him.
White's mother, Gina White, is so relieved that no one died in the fire. She is grateful to Newman for saving her daughter and grandson.
"He said he was a light sleeper. He got up, he said he smelled smoke. He said ‘I think we need to get out of here' but they tried to go out the back door and front door and they couldn't because there was too much smoke so they just had to jump," Gina White said. "Thank God for him and thank God period that no one was seriously injured or killed."
Newman shrugged it off.
"I feel good to be alive. My main concern was them. That's the kind of man I am. I was always taught my family first, I was going to make sure they were fine. And through the grace of God, we are here to tell the story."
"That is scary. I would have hung on for a while. That's a long way down. They must have known things were desperate enough that they got to go," Edward Briggs said.
The Red Cross said they are helping 22 people with food and clothing. While most of them are staying with family and friends, the Red Cross is helping seven people stay at a nearby hotel.
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