|Jet Nguyen, 21 months, who was saved from a fire by being thrown from a balcony. (JORDAN VERLAGE/QMI Agency)
EDMONTON -- A 21-month-old baby boy was dropped from a third- floor balcony into a stranger's arms yesterday after his panicked parents opened their front door to discover a wall of smoke.
A blaze broke out in their west-end apartment building, near 104 Avenue and 156 Street, around 8:15 a.m. Fire crews received several calls from alarmed passersby reporting that flames were shooting through a window. Investigators believe the fire was sparked by a space heater in a bedroom of a second-floor suite.
"There was no battery in the smoke detector, so there was no early warning for them," said fire investigator Capt. Shayne Page.
Other residents had no warning to evacuate until smoke billowed out of the flaming suite and into the building's hallways, setting off alarms.
When Vanessa Machiskinic and her boyfriend Adrian Key heard the noise and opened the door to investigate, they were hit by plumes of thick smoke.
Thinking that they wouldn't be able to make it through the stairwell exit, Machiskinic took a chair and smashed the frozen-shut balcony door.
"There was a man down there looking up at us and he's like, 'Get out! Get out!' " she recalled.
Immediately, she instructed Key to drop their young son Jet Nguyen to the man -- a neighbour they didn't know.
"I was shocked," Key said. "But she made the decision and I followed along. I hesitated for a second. But he told me twice, 'Yeah, I'll catch your son'. "
Although he was terrified, Key let go of Jet and watched him plummet to the man's open arms.
"It wasn't a very tough decision," Machiskinic, who is five months' pregnant with twins, said. "I just knew what we had to do. I thought we were going to die."
In the meantime, a handful of residents had come into their suite, worried about using the dark, smoky stairs.
Finally, they decided to make a run for it. In the end, all 18 residents evacuated safely.
Machiskinic rushed to the neighbour who was holding Jet. "I just said 'Thank you so much' ," she said.
The baby was examined by paramedics, then released.
It didn't take crews long to contain the fire to the suite, Page said. But there was plenty of smoke and water damage.
Firefighters also rescued several cats and reunited them with worried owners waiting in a city bus.
Kristina Nordli, 14, only managed to grab one of her three cats when she evacuated. Fire crews eventually came out with the other two cats, including Baby, who had to be treated with oxygen.
"It was scary because they came out with one of my cats and she wasn't really alive," Nordli said from the Howard Johnson Hotel a few blocks away where the Red Cross put up most of the residents. "Her front paws are like noodles right now."
Baby is expected to recover.
There is no word on when residents might be allowed to move back home.
Meanwhile, fire investigators are looking into the cause of an $800,000 fire that started around 1 a.m. in the garage of a two-storey home near 189 Street and 89 Avenue. Two parents and their three adult children managed to escape without injury.
And the survivor of a deadly fire that tore through a home Tuesday at 10648 57 St. remains in critical condition. Tony Hagan is clinging to life after the blaze that killed wife Patricia Hagan.