Crews rescued a dozen people in the Christmas Eve drama – eight by ladder and some through shattered windows – as a blaze tore through a first-floor flat in Smithfield Street.
Six casualties were taken to hospital with smoke inhalation, while a cat died in the incident, that sparked at around 9.20am on Saturday morning.
Neighbours told how an elderly couple in their 70s, and living on the fourth floor, had to escape the choking conditions by shattering a front window before being taken to safety.
Watch commander Andy McDermott said all 16 flats in the tenement had been affected by smoke bellowing into the stairwell and seeping into their homes following a suspected pan fire on the first floor.
“When we arrived flames were coming out of the rear window and the front door of the first-floor flat,” he said. “The occupant had already got out and we effected 12 rescues in the course of the incident.”
The fire chief also told how they had to launch an urgent rescue of two people in “imminent danger” the moment they arrived on the scene.
He said: “It was a well-developed fire in the first-floor flat, which was pretty badly damaged. People have been taken to hospital suffering smoke inhalation and as far as we know none of them suffered any burns, although we did have one cat fatality.”
He added: “The crews did a fantastic job to bring the fire under control so quickly and carry out the rescues they did.
“There are 16 flats and every flat had smoke entering them to some extent or another. Given the situation, people were understandably quite panicked, but it was just a matter of trying to keep them calm.
“We can’t rescue everyone at the one time so we prioritise and try to keep the others calm.
“There’s a few people that are quite lucky to see Christmas as it was really quite a serious incident.”
A clean-up operation began later in the day to remove glass shattered during rescues at the upper-floor windows. Bedding could also be seen draped over chunks of glass from a broken window pane 40 feet up, where residents are said to have clambered on to rescue equipment.
A neighbour, who wanted to remain anonymous, said: “The fire brigade had to get the ladders up to take an old man and woman down from the top-floor window. They were about 70-odd and looked terrified.”
A fire service spokeswoman said: “One firefighter was treated for heat stress. Fire investigation is under way, but at this time it is not deemed to be suspicious.”
Meanwhile, a family escaped on to a balcony during a fire at their flat in Winchburgh today. A smell of burning was reported as coming from Glendevon Park at 4.13am.
An ambulance crew checked over a two-year-old girl and a four-year-old boy, but they did not require hospital treatment.