An early morning apartment fire Thursday caused four people to climb down ladders to safety.

Assistant Fire Chief Steve Bowers said crews were dispatched to 4309 Earl Drive shortly after midnight when calls came in that an upstairs apartment was filling with smoke and the occupants could hear people screaming and fire alarms going off in other parts of the eight-unit building.

“People were stuck on balconies because they couldn’t get out of second floor hallways.” Bowers said, pointing out that while some firefighters were busy attacking the fire, “others…grabbed extension ladders and assisted residents in climbing down off balconies.”

“We were lucky,” Bowers added. “There were actually some people at work, but there was a period of time where we had some residents unaccounted for.”

Bowers said the fire is believed to be accidental and started in the kitchen area of a first-floor apartment.

Chief Carlo Capaldi said officers told him when they arrived on scene, “fire was billowing out the bottom” of the building, adding, “They went above and beyond.”

Bowers said the fire was under control in about 30 minutes, but remained on scene for at least four more hours “just because of displacement.”

“We had three families that needed Red Cross assistance because they had no relatives in the area to stay with,” he said. “Most other folks stayed with local friends and family.”

He said Wintersville firefighters assisted the search, and Wintersville ambulance crews offered their services to residents though only one person — the occupant of the apartment where the fire started — was transported to Trinity West for minor injuries.”

“All in all, there were no serious injures,” he said. “The apartment of origin is a total loss and there was extensive smoke damage throughout the structure.”

Capaldi said firefighters “went above and beyond” the call of duty in bringing the fire under control and ensuring residents all got out.