A 12-year-old girl, who was seen in a cellphone video dangling from the balcony of a second-story dance studio as flames raged behind her, recounted to ABC News how she was able to escape.
Nina Twomey was in a technique dance class practicing across-the-floor routines Monday evening when she and her classmates smelled smoke in their studio, the Professional Arts Academy in Edgewater, New Jersey.
At first, they thought the smell was from a nearby restaurant, Twomey said. But when the smell didn't go away, their dance instructor decided to check it out.
When the teacher opened the door to the studio's only exit, they immediately saw the heavy smoke and fire, and "everyone started freaking out," she said. The instructor determined that the balcony was their "only option" to get to safety, Twomey said.
"We ran out to the balcony," she said. "We ran as fast as we could."
Twomey -- one of the girls seen dangling from the balcony -- was one of the last students out of the studio, she said. As she waited her turn to exit the balcony onto the ladders men were holding below, she was burned slightly by sparks from the growing fire.
The ladders were too short to reach the balcony and kept falling over, so Twomey said she decided to jump down.
"I couldn't hold any longer," she said. "I just let go."
Besides the slight burn and some bruises to her legs, Twomey said she didn't sustain any serious injuries and avoided a trip to the hospital.
However, two of her friends were stuck inside the building, she said.
Good Samaritan Tony Nehmi saw heavy smoke from his store across the street from the dance studio and drove over to help, not yet realizing the gravity of the situation, he told ABC News.
"I was so worried," Nehmi said. "I didn't know it [was] gonna be that bad."
Once he got to the scene, he saw flames up to five feet high that began to "grow bigger and bigger." He immediately started asking if there was anyone still inside. Then he saw two little girls through a window on the second floor trapped inside the building.
The girls were banging on the window with a small object, trying to break it, but they couldn't, Nehmi said.
He found a ladder and climbed to the roof of the building, using the ladder to break through the window and hoist the girls onto the roof, he said.
Once he got the girls on the roof, they were barefoot and shivering from the cold, and he tried to comfort them while simultaneously thinking about their next escape route.
"I'm worried about the fire under where I'm standing," Nehmi said of his thoughts during that moment. "I want to get them off the roof immediately."
Then, the fire department appeared and was able to get them off the roof, he said.
Nehmi, a father to two daughters and a son, said he never considered his own safety during the ordeal.
Mayor Michael McPartland praised Nehmi in a press conference Monday night, giving him the nickname "Batman" for his rescue efforts. But Nehmi insists that he's no hero, saying anyone who witnessed two girls fighting for their lives would have done the same thing -- if not more.
"You see these two girls fighting for their lives -- you have a second to do your job," he said. "I know, I have to do something immediately. There's no room for any mistake."
The dramatic rescues were filmed by an onlooker and showed a handful of children and instructors trapped on the balcony as people below tried to raise ladders to help them escape. Some children are seen jumping onto the ladders, and, eventually, the people on the balcony are forced to fall 10 feet to the ground below.
On the first floor of the building was an auto body shop, car wash, health spa and restaurant, officials said. Five people were hospitalized with non-life threatening injuries.
Twomey said that while it's unfortunate that the studio and the equipment inside were destroyed, she's "just glad everyone is safe" and that "there were no terrible injuries."