A Thomson High School basketball/football star is being hailed a "hero" for awakening his family to a house fire that left the nine-member family homeless for the second time in a little more than two years last Saturday morning.
Everyone escaped unharmed thanks in part to the efforts of Jonathan Atkins, who was awakened by debris falling from the ceiling of a room where he slept.
"He woke me up, saying, 'Mama, Mama, get up, the house is on fire,"' recalled Jonathan's mother, Annette Atkins.
Jonathan and Ms. Atkins quickly ran to other rooms of the doublewide mobile home to rouse other sleeping members of their family to safety.
Two of Ms. Atkins' daughters and four of her grandchildren managed to escape the burning home through windows.
"If it hadn't been for Jonathan, there's no telling what would have happened," said Ms. Atkins, whose family lost everything they owned, including family Christmas gifts opened just two days earlier. "We could have all died in that fire."
One of Jonathan's sisters, Alicia Atkins, 19, who lives on her own in Thomson, thinks of her brother as a hero, too.
"He saved everybody's lives," said Miss Atkins. "I look up to him as a hero because of what he did to save my Mama and everybody else in there."
Her mother thanked God for sparing her family and live-in boyfriend, Stanford Wilson, who she plans to marry on Valentine's Day.
"God was looking after us is all I can say," said Ms. Atkins. "I'm just so thankful nobody got hurt."
Flames had engulfed much of the dwelling by the time firefighters arrived on the scene of the 9:15 a.m. alarm at the Pay or Go Trailer Park at 318 Bussey Avenue, according to Thomson Fire Department Deputy Chief Johnny Crawley.
The fire broke out in the living room and has been blamed on an overloaded electrical circuit, said Deputy Chief Crawley. A space heater was plugged up to it at the time, added the fire official.
About a dozen firefighters battled the blaze for more than 30 minutes before bringing it under control. None of the firefighters were injured fighting the fire.
It marks the fourth time in the past 15 years that fire has disrupted the lives of the family. The last time fire caused the family to become homeless was on Dec. 14, 2006.
"It burned up all our Christmas gifts then, too," lamented Ms. Atkins, who at the time lived on Kennedy Court in Thomson.
That particular fire was attributed to an electrical shortage in the kitchen, said Ms. Atkins.
Two other fires years ago also left the family homeless. Back in 2000, while living in Dearing, a grease fire on the stove was the culprit. The first fire involving the family occurred about 15 years ago when they lived off Dallas Drive near Thomson. A kerosene heater accident was blamed for that fire.
There were no injuries in any of those fires.
The family is being provided assistance by the Augusta Chapter of the American Red Cross, Agape Ministries and Manna, Inc., both of Thomson.
Since the latest fire, the Atkins family has stayed at the Knox Terrace Motel in Thomson. They will be housed at White Columns Inn later this week. Members of Springfield Baptist Church in Thomson are attempting to help the family get reestablished with a more permanent place to call home.