Elderly people would have died in a blaze at a retirement complex without a fire chief's "swift and decisive actions".
About 150 residents were evacuated in the fire at Beechmere residential apartments in Crewe.
Decisions made by the incident commander, who was first at the scene on Thursday, "undoubtedly saved lives", according to the fire service.
Investigators are to examine how the blaze was able to spread so rapidly.
Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service said it was not thought to have been arson.
The incident commander chose to override a "stay put" policy at the premises, which would have required residents to remain in their apartments and be evacuated on a phased basis.
Lee Shears, head of protection with the fire service, said: "It's clear that the fire wasn't behaving in the way that we would expect, and I must praise his swift and decisive actions in ordering the immediate evacuation of residents.
"His decision undoubtedly saved lives."
Assistant chief fire officer Gus O'Rourke added: "I must also praise the staff at Beechmere and neighbouring residents.
"They should be truly proud of themselves.
"The support from residents and the wider community of Crewe continues to be an inspiration to us all, and I can't thank them enough for their generosity, patience and understanding during this incident."
Residents from properties neighbouring the site were also evacuated but are expected to be allowed to return home soon.
Avantage Cheshire Limited, which runs the complex, said it was "devastated" by the fire and relieved everyone on site was safely evacuated.
Mr Shears added that the section of the building that remained intact would be "crucial" in helping investigators establish what happened.
Crews have been working throughout the weekend to damp down the site, where much of the building collapsed, and will continue the work on Monday.
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