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U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Daniel Raimondo told CNN he was walking to dinner Saturday when he saw clouds of smoke and set off in that direction."
On assessing the scene, he and a colleague discussed how to help and resolved to get some blankets from a nearby store.
They corralled others to help hold the blankets, then tried to persuade the mother to drop her children to safety.
First Sgt. Melanie Scott said the woman was understandably reluctant to let go of her children, ages 1, 3 and 4.
"You could tell she was scared. She didn't want to." Raimondo said that the "last baby was the most difficult in my eyes, she just wouldn't let her go for some reason."
He said he repeatedly begged the mother: "Please just throw the baby down!"
"I remember her screaming (at) the baby, 'I love you, I love you. ...' Next thing you know she dropped the baby."
The woman fell more heavily than the children and hit the ground beneath the blanket, but someone had had the foresight to put cushions underneath it, he said.