PORTLAND, Ore. -- Portland Fire & Rescue Battalion Chief Scott Beyers was among the first to respond to Northwest 23rd and Glisan Street, just minutes before a natural gas explosion Wednesday morning.

Beyers walked up and down the street, making sure shops were closed and employees made it out. Eventually, he reached Pizzicato, across the street from the building with the gas leak.

“I just came up to the door to check if it was locked,” said Beyers. “I was holding onto the door handles and that's when all of a sudden the explosion occurred and it just pushed me and the doors to the ground.”

Beyers said despite a minor leg injury, he didn't feel any pain, so he got up and heard the mayday calls on the radio. Across the street, Beyers saw two firefighters badly hurt after the force of the blast threw them 50 feet.

“This fence that's pushed down, that's where the firefighters were as I came out,” said Beyers. "That’s where other firefighters were tending to them.”

Beyers said he and Lt. David Woodhouse saw something they could hardly believe-- a woman standing atop the pile of burning rubble where, just seconds before, a building had stood.

“We needed to get to her right away because the fire was coming up right behind her," said Beyers.

He ordered a ladder but realized there was no time to wait.

“We just started climbing up the pile to her and waved her down at the same time,” he said.

Beyers said three firefighters were treated at the hospital. One of them was still recovering after surgery. In the end, Beyers said things could have ended much differently.

“We were very lucky that we didn't lose somebody.”

During a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Portland Fire Chief Mike Myers credited Lt. Peter St. John with "single-handedly saving lives" by helping quickly evacuate the affected building. St. John was one of the firefighters injured in the explosion.