The Plymouth teenager heard the woman's screams outside the apartment building.

"Fire!" she cried out.

Seventeen-year-old Urias Jah ran out of his family's ground-level apartment and looked up to see a woman on the second-level balcony holding a bowl of water, yelling for help. A fire on the deck above her was spreading.

"The water wasn't going to turn off the fire, so I told her to go back inside and I would turn off the fire," said Jah, a Liberian immigrant.

To do so, the teen would have to somehow scale 25 to 30 feet up the outside of the building to the third-story apartment where the fire was growing.

Jah ran through his apartment and into the hallway, yanking the fire alarm and grabbing the extinguisher. He wanted people out of their apartments and safe, he said, recalling his actions during the October fire that recently earned him a Citizens Award from Plymouth city officials.

"I knew I had to do something before the fire [department] got there," Jah said. "I didn't want it to get any worse."

He managed to secure the fire extinguisher onto his sweatpants, ran back outside and climbed onto an iron deck railing.

Standing at 5-feet-3 — maybe 5-feet-5, he said — he jumped and grabbed onto the bottom of the second-story balcony.

Pulling himself up and over the railing, he blasted the extinguisher on the fire debris on the second level before he climbed onto that deck's iron railing.

"I jumped to [the] third floor," he said. "I was a little bit afraid."

Flames licked the side of the building and a plastic bucket filled with cigarette butts was melting. "I could feel the heat but I wasn't worried," Jah said.

He blasted the extinguisher again and soon the fire was out.

Then he got scared. The sirens were getting closer. "I didn't want them to yell at me and say that it's dangerous to climb up there," he said. "I didn't want them to say, 'Why do your parents allow you to do this?' "

He scampered to the ground as firefighters pulled up to the apartment building.

By then, there was "just some smoke coming from the deck," said Plymouth Assistant Fire Chief Matt Nordby. The fire was out, but his crews hosed down the area to keep it from rekindling.

When he learned of Jah's climbing feat, he was perplexed. "I don't know how he did it and did it with an extinguisher," Nordby said. He and each of his crew members shook Jah's hand and thanked him.

Henneh Kota, who is married to Jah's sister, also was flabbergasted.

The teen arrived from West Africa two years ago and lives with them because his mother had to return to Liberia, where she works for the government. "He plays soccer. He's athletic. It's incredible he took action," Kota said, noting he certainly wouldn't have climbed three stories to put out the fire if he had been home at the time.

"I would have called 911 and waited."

Such heroics deserved recognition, said Nordby, who recommended Jah for the Citizens Award.

"So many lives are affected and changed by a simple apartment fire, between the smoke damage and the water damage and people being displaced," Nordby said. "He saved us a lot of work. But mostly, he made an impact on the residents there so they were able to stay in their apartment that night."

More than 200 people live in the Plymouth Ponds apartment complex.

People were thankful, Jah said. "That feels good."

Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788