The Alaska Airlines 737-900 with 113 passengers and five crew aboard was backing out of Calgary's airport terminal before its 7 a.m. departure when the blaze broke out in its right turbofan.
Smoke quickly filled the back half of the plane's cabin, said passenger Connie Watkins.
"Kids were crying, we didn't know what was happening.''
No one was hurt and ground crews quickly doused the flames while passengers escaped by sliding down the inflatable emergency chutes.
Dennis Cornish of Calgary said it seemed like it took forever to get off the plane.
"It was frightful, because I was sitting by the window and this big ball of flame came shooting at us,'' said Cornish, 64, who was heading to Mexico for the winter with his wife Janett, 59.
"Then I hollered, 'Fire!' and then another big ball of flame came at us.''
The couple said they grabbed their carry-on bags and looked for the nearest door.
"It was quite visible and it was hot, there was lots of smoke,'' said Janett. "I said, 'Please open the doors, we need to get out of here.'''
Watkins' husband, Hilton Marston, said he thinks it took far too long to evacuate the plane after the fire was discovered and will be demanding some answers from airline brass.
"I was just very disappointed with the reaction ... they could have handled it a lot better,'' said the 45-year-old carpenter.
Alaska Airlines official Caroline Boren said the flight crew handled the crisis appropriately.
"We're grateful that everyone got off safely," Boren said, adding the company will be reviewing what steps the crew took.
"The crew made the decision to evacuate the aircraft based on the smoke that was in the cabin and all of that occurred within about two minutes,'' she said from Seattle, the airline's head office.
The cause of the fire isn't known yet and no damage estimate was immediately available.
All passengers were accommodated on other flights and the airline pledged to cover any hotel expenses for those having to stay an extra day in between connecting flights.
The Transportation Safety Board is also investigating.
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