ELIZABETH, N.J. (AP) - A woman dropped two infants from a
second-story window of a burning apartment building to neighbors
who used an outstretched blanket to safely catch them.
Firefighters using ladders then rescued the woman and four
others from a fast-moving blaze that ruined two buildings and
damaged a third in the pre-dawn darkness Wednesday. Fifty people
were left homeless.
The fire was reported at 4:23 a.m., and immediately went to
three alarms, followed by additional calls for assistance from
nearby departments, Elizabeth Fire Chief Lou Kelly said. Embers
drifted for blocks in the struggling Elizabethport neighborhood and
dense smoke reached Manhattan.
About 70 firefighters from six municipalities brought the fire
under control by 8 a.m.
The infants' dramatic rescue unfolded as smoke and flames
surrounded a woman frantically crying for help.
She caught the attention of Mary Lowery and Willie Mayweather,
who huddled outside in a beige blanket from Mayweather's bed after
they had escaped the fire.
"He got one end of the blanket and I got the other end and we
yelled for the lady to drop the babies out," Lowery said. "I
yelled 'Come on, come on! Throw them down! Don't be scared!"'
Lowery said the woman hesitated, fearing the fall might injure
the infants, "but then she dropped them one by one."
Both children appeared to be less than a year old.
Moments after the pair caught the children, firefighters and
paramedics arrived and whisked them away. Both infants were in good
condition, and firefighters led the woman to safety, authorities
said.
Mayweather said he was convinced the infants would have died if
the woman had not thrown them to safety.
"I didn't want to see those kids get burned up," he said.
"There's no way they could have gotten out. They would have been
dead for sure."
Kelly said firefighting efforts were initially stalled by
interior searches of buildings and the large number of rescues.
One firefighter was taken to the hospital for a possible broken
arm and back injury, Kelly said. Several civilians were treated at
the scene.
The two most extensively damaged buildings partially collapsed
and will have to be torn down, Kelly said. A third building had
exterior damage.
Residents left homeless by the blaze were given temporary
shelter in the parish hall of nearby St. Adalbert's Roman Catholic
Church.
The American Red Cross was considering setting up a temporary
shelter in the parish hall if other short-term accommodations could
not be found, said Keith Greene, the Red Cross's director of
emergency services.
Arson investigators were at the scene, but the fire's cause was
not immediately known, Kelly said.
Lowery and Mayweather said they lost all their possessions in
the blaze, but were happy they were able to save the children.
"That wasn't us saving them," Lowery said as she sat in the
parish hall, her head and shoulders swaddled in a different blanket
that reeked of smoke. "That was God out there this morning. We
just happened to be there."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)