Andrew Walker, 52, entered the burning flat on Stenhouse Crescent yesterday afternoon when he realised its 71-year-old occupant, Catherine Sandford, was still inside. Despite suffering from angina, the father-of-six rushed into the first-floor flat and dragged Mrs Sandford, who was lying unconscious in her hallway, down the stairs.
Mr Walker, who lives on nearby Stevenson Drive, said: "Once I went in the front door I couldn't see anything, there was just black smoke everywhere. I think she had stopped breathing at that point in the hallway. It took me three tries to get her out the flat.
"I got her down the stairs, put her on her side and moved her tongue, and she started breathing again. It was a bad fire, I was happy when she started coming round."
He added: "It was just automatic – you just do what you can. Anybody would have done the same thing."
Mrs Sandford, who suffered severe smoke inhalation, was taken to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary by ambulance where neighbours said she has been put into an induced coma for 24 hours. She was in intensive care early this morning. Her cat died in the fire.
It is understood that she is a widow with two daughters and has lived in the flat for more than 40 years.
Neighbours said one of her daughters lived with her but wasn't in the flat at the time.
Mr Walker, who has previously suffered a heart attack, was also treated at the Royal Infirmary for smoke inhalation and was given oxygen for about two hours before being released at 5pm.
The grandfather-of-six had just returned from a friend's house with his wife Isabel when he noticed black smoke billowing from the flat.
Mrs Walker, 50, faced an agonising wait while her husband was inside. She said: "The black smoke was pouring out the windows. When Andrew went inside I was just hoping he was all right and the old lady, too.
"It was a relief when I saw him coming out the flat and bringing her down the stairs."
Great-grandmother Christina Blyth, 79, who lives in the flat downstairs from the fire, told Mr Walker that her neighbour was still inside. Mrs Blyth said she heard her neighbour screaming but was unable to climb up the stairs to help her.
The retired bank worker said: "I was sitting here drinking a cup of tea when I heard a big bang up the stairs, so I phoned my neighbour upstairs but there was no answer. Then my other neighbour across the road phoned me and said there was black smoke coming out of the windows upstairs.
"When I went outside I heard my neighbour upstairs shouting 'Chrissy', but I can't go up the stairs. I was annoyed at myself because I couldn't do anything.
"The man who rescued her came running along and asked if anybody was in the flat and I said there was, and that she had been shouting for me. He wasn't half brave, he was struggling to breathe when he came out. If that was me it would have killed me."
Another neighbour Margaret Moore, 83, added: "The damage in the flat is horrendous. She's a very lucky woman."
The cause of the fire, which broke out in the kitchen at around 1pm, is unknown.
Lothian and Borders Police said there were no suspicious circumstances surrounding the cause of the fire.