Gracie Reynolds said she could just make out the two people standing on a balcony of an apartment building downtown, waving their hands as a thick column of smoke billowed out a nearby window.
It was just before 10:30 a.m. on Sunday. Reynolds and her girlfriend, Kendal Sprague, live in an apartment across Interstate 5, and they immediately dialed 911 and drove to the scene to give a precise location.
"There was this thick, thick cloud of smoke rushing out of an open window, so we were like, 'This is not normal,'" said Reynolds, 20.
They could see a man and a woman stranded on a tiny balcony, close to the flames. Sprague tried contacting them but could tell they couldn't hear her. So Reynolds said she drew on the American Sign Language she'd studied in high school.
"I told them that help is on the way," she said, "I was just telling her to try to stay calm and do some deep breathing." The woman signed back, "OK," she said.
Reynolds and Sprague noticed that no fire alarm had gone off, and when a man stepped out of the building, Sprague called for him to pull the alarm, which he did. Residents began streaming out of the building.
"Their efforts clearly helped us in saving the two people that were in distress, and also helping to evacuate everyone else," said David Cuerpo, a spokesperson for the Seattle Fire Department.
The fire broke out on the top floor of the five-story Zindorf Apartments, a century-old building located at 714 Seventh Ave. The two people fled to the balcony after flames inside the unit cut off their exit, Cuerpo said.
Firefighters initially struggled to enter the apartment because its door was blocked on the inside by a bicycle. The crew removed the door and extinguished the blaze while a ladder truck rescued the two occupants, Cuerpo said.
The two people rescued "are both in stable condition" and were taken to a hospital, Cuerpo said, adding that the incident was under investigation.
Reynolds said she had a knack for sign language, which she studied for three years at Central Kitsap High School. She'd been working as a barista for Starbucks until recently, and is thinking of returning to college to study early childhood education, she said.
After firefighters rescued the stranded couple, Reynolds said, the woman passed by her. "She signed, 'thank you, thank you so much.'"