But as dozens of dazed neighbors watched firefighters drag smoldering objects from their houses, Alston's mother summed up their sentiments succinctly.
"The b---- is crazy, what else can I say?" said Shirley Henson-Alston, 59, gesturing at the blackened homes. "All this because she's pissed off at my son. I think the girl needs some mental help."
Monique Riley, 32, of 19th Street near Wingohocking, was arrested yesterday afternoon and charged with aggravated assault, arson and related offenses.
Alston Jr., 35, said he was sleeping in the living room in the house he shares with his parents when he heard the front window screen scraping open about 3 a.m. He scrambled to confront the intruder only to see Riley trying to get inside, he said. He shut the screen, shouted at her to scram and went back to sleep.
A half-hour later, he said, he smelled gasoline.
"I looked outside and she was standing on the [porch]. She threw the match, and everything just caught on fire," a stunned Alston said. "I went upstairs to get my family [out of the house]."
By then, the flames had spread across the first floor. So Alston, his parents, brother and two young daughters sprinted for a rear, second-floor window, pushed out the air-conditioner, leaped onto the roof and beelined for a ladder leaning against the recently repaired roof.
"The fire was all over the house by then; it was like two seconds behind us," said Ouris Alston Sr.
It took firefighters 34 minutes to get the blaze under control, a fire spokesman said.
The incident had eerie echoes of a 2006 incident in which Riley allegedly tried to blow up her former employer's house. In that case, a North Philadelphia woman told police that Riley called her on Aug. 1, 2006, and said: "I hope you like your house."
When the woman got home from work an hour later, she found her door kicked open, according to court records. Inside, the stove had been turned on, leaving the house to fill with explosive gas. The intruder ransacked the house, bleached the resident's clothes and stole $2,000 worth of electronics, according to court documents.
Police arrested Riley after a witness said that he'd seen her at the victim's home. The victim also said Riley, her former babysitter, had left a threatening voice mail the previous day saying she "was coming to get her stuff."
She was charged with risking a catastrophe, burglary and related offenses, according to court documents, but prosecutors withdrew charges for unknown reasons in April 2007.
In October 2000, Riley allegedly grew enraged after learning that her boyfriend had cheated on her with a Wynnefield woman.
She went to the woman's house, knocked on the door and, when the woman came to the door, fired pepper spray in her face and knocked her unconscious with an unknown object, according to court records. A judge in 2001 dismissed aggravated-assault and related charges for reasons unspecified in court records.
In both cases, the victims obtained stay-away orders against Riley.
Yesterday, Alston Jr. shook his head as witnesses told him that Riley had hailed a cab, which unwittingly drove her away as the fire swelled on Furley Street.
"It should have never come to this. She put not only my family in jeopardy, but she put a lot of [other] lives on the line," Alston Jr. said yesterday. "She's a grown woman. She's 32 years old. She deserves whatever the law brings her way."