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‘It was the smoke alarm that woke my son up that saved us’: Anchorage woman had just seconds to escape her burning home

Published: Mar. 11, 2021 at 8:03 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - If a fire broke out in your home in the middle of the night, would you know what to do or where to go, and do you have an escape plan? An Anchorage woman had to face all of that but says it was the preparation that saved her family’s life.

“This was my Mercedes, it use to be blue and had windows,” said Tara Cowen describing what’s left of her snow-covered burned car.

One by one, Cowen pointed out what was left of her two-story home.

“My bed is right down there by the steel cabinet,” she said.

Charred pieces of wood and broken pipes, all covered in snow.

“That’s the bed the grandkids were in,” she added.

Cowen tried to assess what she could of the home she’d lived in for the last 40 years.

“You sort of mourn it one item at a time as it floats up out of the fog. My garden gloves are gone, my jewelry is gone, books I was reading that were on my nightstand are gone,” said Cowen.

Two weeks ago on Feb. 25 firetrucks lined her driveway, smoke billowed into the air as firefighters worked to put out the fire that started in the middle of the night.

“People are asleep,” said Captain Patrick Gregg of Fire Station 9. “The things that save lives in situations like this are working smoke detectors.”

“It was the smoke alarm that woke my son up that saved us. My son came and said get up there’s a fire in the garage,” added Cowen.

With only seconds to spare, she grabbed what she could and tried to escape.

“When I came back up that hallway, there was black smoke over my head with red sparkles in it and I knew then that I had literally a couple of seconds to get out the door,” she said.

Cowen who grew up in a fire-conscious family says it still took them by surprise.

“It still happened that fast and I really want to push that message out to people, prepare yourself, prepare your children, don’t think you’re going to scare them by talking about the possibility of fire, you’re going to empower them,” said Cowen.

Thankfully, everyone including her dog got out safely. But the house where she spent the last four decades making memories is a total loss.

“I had been here since I was 25. Everything of mine was here,” Cowen said.

“My mom is an incredibly strong person and she has this incredible ability to find some way to make you and herself laugh regardless of the conditions,” said Adrianne Jacobs, who is Cowen’s daughter.

Jacobs said their home was the beating heart of the family and anyone her mom could have opened the door to, she did.

“That’s been her role in life for my entire life is just being incredibly generous, incredibly welcoming and I’m just so glad to see that she’s getting some of that back,” said Jacobs.

“The outpouring of assistance, help, love, generosity and caring that we’ve been shows has been absolutely stunning. That’s the only parts where I’ve actually cried is at the amazing love everyone has shown,” added Cowen.

It’s not going to be easy, but the plan is to rebuild in the same spot

Cowen said it’s going to be a long climb, but Alaska is and will always be home.

According to the Anchorage Fire Marshall, preliminary results show the fire started in the garage and appears to be accidental. The cause is still under investigation.

Jacobs set up a GoFundMe page to help the family get back on their feet.

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