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‘Pure Instinct’: The Extraordinary Rescue of 2 French Boys From a Fire

“There were maybe five or six of us. We did not plan anything,” one of the rescuers, Athoumani Walid, said in an interview Friday night. “It was pure instinct. We wanted to save them but we did not know how. We told each other we needed to come together to catch them during the fall. It was the only solution,” said Mr. Walid, a 25-year-old student from the Comoro Islands.

Sofiane told his uncle afterward: “Either I jump, or I die.”

After pitching Soleiman down to the men below, “he saw that his brother was alive, and that gave him confidence,” Mr. Laout said.

The boys’ parents were out, the mother shopping and the father at work. “It all happened in the space of 20 minutes,” Mr. Laout said.

“Quickly, quickly I will be back,” Ms. Laout said she told the boys, who were not seriously harmed.

The drama unfolded in a 1960s-era apartment block in the immigrant and poor Villeneuve district, which has a troubled recent history.

There were riots there in 2010 after a man accused of robbery was killed in a shootout with the police. The president of France at the time, Nicolas Sarkozy, delivered a harshly anti-immigrant speech in the wake of the rioting, which provoked sharp reactions in the country, and for which he later apologized.

The neighborhood is scorned by residents of prosperous central Grenoble as a haven of crime and ethnic separatism, said a local writer, Hervé Bienfait, who wrote a book about Villeneuve. “It suffers from its reputation,” he said.

But it is unfair, Mr. Bienfait said, and in this case the residents, immigrants and children of immigrants, pulled together in an “extraordinary act,” he said. “It doesn’t surprise me. It’s a neighborhood where there is a lot of initiative.”

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