Providence found the Curry family last night just as Jeanette Curry, watching black smoke approach, was ready to throw her four young children out a second-story window.

Actually it was the crew of the D.C. Fire Department Engine Company 16 that happened to be driving by the Currys' apartment building at 1223 N St. NW that found the family.

The fire company was on its way back to the station after assisting an ambulance unit with a heroin overdose case when the driver, Jeffrey Wright, spotted smoke coming from the three-story brick apartment building.

"I heard a lot of screaming. There was a lady up in the second-floor window, saying she was going to throw her babies down," said Emanuel Chappelle, an attendant at a nearby gas station who ran to the scene when he heard the yells. Another resident "was telling people don't jump, just wait," he said.

"They were trapped; they couldn't get down," said Chappelle.

That's when Engine 16 drove by.

"I was thinking -- it couldn't be, we hadn't heard anything" on the radio, said acting Lt. Thomas C. Johnson who was riding in the passenger side of the fire truck.

Firefighters James Seavey and James Flook carried down four children, aged 18 months to 6 years, and helped down two adults, said Johnson. Five other residents fled the flames through the rear fire escape.

One of the firemen "went up the ladder, grabbed a little baby and brought it down. Then he went up and grabbed another and brought it down. Then he went up and grabbed another and brought it down," Chappelle said. " . . . I mean I've never seen nothing like that before . . . . The smoke and fire were roaring out of the place."

Fire officials said the fire started in the basement. Johnson said the probable cause was a seat cushion set on fire under a stair well. One resident received minor injuries.

"God smiled on 11 people tonight, if you don't mind me saying so," said Johnson.

Jeanette Curry agreed. "I told them just get my kids out, let me burn," she said, still shaken after the incident, which occurred about 7:30 p.m.

Curry had opened her front door when she smelled fire in the hallway. In doing so, she let in a cloud of dark smoke that looked, she said, "like you were looking into outer space."

Emma Erwin is a first-floor resident who said she escaped through a hallway so thick with smoke she could not see lights on the ceiling. She said the firefighters worked quickly and efficiently.

"It was marvelous," she said. The fireman at the bottom of the ladder "didn't want to let the babies go."

"Oh Lord have mercy," said Erwin. "I've never been so frightened in all my born days."