She heard footsteps.
Her father-in-law, yelling.
The house was on fire.
Alison Cowart roused Dusty, her husband, then scooped up their Jack Russells, Dixie and Lola. How she has no idea. Adrenaline, she figures.
Usually she cant lift the dogs. She was in a car wreck a few years back and walks with a cane. Sometimes she needs a wheelchair.
But this night she walked. Quickly.
Flames danced at her back window.
It was going on midnight Friday. Cowart and her husband had been living with his folks for the past year or so. She and Dusty had brought everything they owned with them while they waited to build a place nearby, not far from Interstate 75 and Bolingbroke.
Earlier Friday evening, theyd grilled out on the back deck. Pork tenderloin and veggies. The house, a two-story on 8 acres along Old Popes Ferry Road, overlooked a pond.
Everyone turned in about 10.
Dustys two teenagers from a previous marriage were spending the night away.
Then footsteps, pounding, the blaze. Get up!
Cowart, in her pajamas, rushed outside. Dusty and her in-laws followed.
The fire trucks wouldnt make it in time.
The family, the four of them, paced. What else was left to do?
They were alive. Their house, though, was dying.
The grill was all anyone could think. A spark must have popped out, smoldered and, in the cool night air, whipped up a home-eating inferno.
Cowart, 32, stood dazed. In the eerie calm of chaos, she grabbed her phone.
I have to say something, she thought.
So she tweeted...
My house just burned down... OMG.
Thinking back, Cowart says, That was just my automatic response. I didnt know that anyone cared or would be listening. I think I just had to vent.
She isnt one to douse Twitter with personal tidbits. For her, its mostly chatter about the Atlanta Braves, the Georgia Bulldogs and, she says, random whatevers in my head.
She tweeted some more as fire swallowed the house...
Im standing outside watching it burn. I think Im in shock.
There wasnt much the firefighters could do.
The flames had too big a head start.
Cowarts husband had slipped on his clothes before fleeing their bedroom.
All Cowart salvaged was her purse.
Her cellphone was inside it...
I think everything is gone. They cant get it out.
The firefighters stayed all night.
At 4 a.m., hot spots still sizzled. They flared till dawn.
By then, shock began to ebb ...
I have to figure out where we will stay tonight.
Since the weekend, a flood of well-wishes have poured in from friends, kin, strangers. A hundred or more people have sent greetings by email and on social media. Many have donated gift cards, clothes.
Ill open my email and just burst into tears. Its so overwhelming, Cowart says.
A friend of a friend in San Francisco wanted to know what size clothes her family wears.
A man on his way to a concert in North Carolina met her in a movie theater parking lot to hand over a Wal-Mart card.
For Cowart, social media embraced a harsh reality and showered it with kisses from the virtual realm. Followers became for-real friends.
Every time I turn on my computer, Cowart says, I have all these notifications. ... Amazing.
Two days after the blaze, Cowart returned to Twitter...
Just had one of the worst feelings ever: Had to fill out something with my address and realized that I didnt have a home anymore.
Her in-laws have since moved in with a son.
She and her husband are staying with her mother.
The other day, Dusty dug through the remains of the fire and found her jewelry box.
Inside was an heirloom from her mom, a diamond ring.
Most everything else was ruined.
At her moms house, she found some other things.
They were hardly keepsakes: a jacket, a pair of khakis.
But belongings arent everything.
A roof over your head and a bed, theyre at least a new start.
Not that they can ease the ache...
I thought sleep would make the crying stop ... Nope.
To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.