Family tries to piece their lives back together after fire

It was a Christmas full of joyful reunion at the Cobb family's house in the Castlewood subdivision of Columbus.

The parents, Cedric and Jarnetta, welcomed home daughters Antoinette from the Air Force and Lisa from Kennesaw State University. Another daughter, Lakisha, already was living in the Wexton Court house, along with her children, 7-year-old Manuel and infant Aubri.

But after they went to bed that night, the homecoming holiday turned into a home-fleeing horror.

Around 4 a.m. Dec. 26, Cedric woke up to the sound of Lisa yelling, "Get out! Get out!"

He saw Lisa "with a look of terror in her face." He smelled smoke. He pulled on sweatpants and a shirt and reflexively -- in hindsight, wisely -- grabbed his wallet and cellphone.

As he scampered downstairs and into thicker smoke, he hollered, "What's going on?"

The front door was open. He rushed outside and saw the garage.

"It was an inferno," he said.

When he turned to go back inside for his family, the breakers tripped and the lights went out.

Lakisha told him she already had called 911. All seven family members made it safely to the curb -- but not their three dogs, who were in the laundry room, next to the garage.

"Everybody was crying, thinking about the dogs," Cedric said, "and I was trying to keep a level head, thinking 'What do I do to take care of my family? We're homeless now.'"

Columbus firemen contained the blaze in about 20 minutes, but the two-story brick house is a total loss, Fire Marshal Ricky Shores said that morning.

One week later, the Cobbs are staying in a local hotel as they slog through insurance claims and try to piece their lives back together. Reimbursement checks will cover a lot of stuff, but the Cobbs lost some irreplaceable items, such as photo albums, family videos and mementos.

Cedric served four years in the U.S. Army. He is a machinist and maintenance worker at Kellogg's Snacks. Jarnetta is an occupational therapist at Fort Benning. Lakisha works at Aflac.

"We don't have family here," Cedric said. "We have friends who say all you have to do is call, but we don't want to do that."

Instead, friends, neighbors and coworkers have reached out to them.

"We've had great support," Cedric said. "It really restores your faith in the common man."

The Cobbs plan to rebuild their house on the same property. The cause of the fire still isn't known, but this much is clear to Cedric: He has more compassion for disaster victims.

"I always felt for them, but you don't know what they're going through until you are going through it too," he said. "We lost everything in one fell swoop. We just want to maintain and make it so we can carry our own weight."

HOW TO HELP: The Cobb Family Emergency Donation Fund has been established to help the family recover from losing their home in a fire. The fund was opened at the Wells Fargo branch at 5590 Milgen Road, but contributions may be made at any branch.