Community rallies around two South Austin brothers whose home burned down
AUSTIN, Texas - Harry and Michael Harton have a bond like no other. Not only are they brothers, but they live together too. On Friday, November 1, Harry was at home while his brother was walking to the senior assistance office.
“I heard a crackle then a loud boom over my head like a loud shotgun blast,” Harry said.
Mike didn't know when he'd return, their South Austin home of 49 years, passed down from their mother, would look like this.
“Realized it was a haze turned fire,” Harry said.
Harry rushed next door because he didn't have a cell or landline. His neighbor Ali Kozlowski wasn't at home, but another neighbor who happened to get off work 30 minutes early saw Harry in distress with the fire in the background and called 911.
“Everything I had in that house, papers I needed for retirement,” Harry says.
The Austin Fire Department ruled the cause as accidental, the home a total loss, but not even this devastating fire could tear the 73 and 75-year-old brothers apart.
They'd soon find out the community wanted to be part of that bond too.
“The first day of the fire they said they were going to try and sleep in the garage of the burnt down house or in a tent," Kozlowski said.
Kozlowski posted on Nextdoor about Harry and Michael’s house being burned down.
“The only phone numbers they had written down were inside the house,” Kozlowski says.
Almost immediately, donations of clothes, shoes, cell phone, and food started pouring in, including money in this GoFundMe account, which has already exceeded one of its goals.
Someone is even allowing them to borrow their home for the next month or so until backup plans are in place.
“There's a foundation that might possibly rebuild for them but they'll still have property taxes which anyone in Austin knows is really high. And also they have no savings. We have a financial advisor that's going to do pro bono that will set them up so whatever they raise they'll have an allotted amount each month. We're also looking at selling the property and getting them into a safer more senior-friendly community. We'd actually put a chunk of the money into a savings account so they can get health insurance and some of those things they'll really need,” Kozlowski said.
The brothers say they're amazed and feel extremely blessed.
"In my neighborhood, it was something I've never seen before," Harry said.
“It's nice for them to see too it's not a hand out it's a hand up and it's a chance when bad things happen your community will rally around you,” Kozlowski said.
AFD says the cause of the fire was improperly discarded smoking material. The damage estimate is $150,000 for the structure and $10,000 for the contents.
“To know that if we hadn't stepped in they'd probably be wandering the streets is devastating," Kozlowski said. "I know Harry has a lot weighing on him feeling he may have contributed. Luckily, it was ruled accidental."
"When you've got a small house made quickly and cheaply after 49 years you need to do some type of preventable measures and we hadn't yet done those," Michael said.
Harry is a size small and for pants 30x30 and shoes size 8. Mike is a size medium and for pants a 36x32 and size 12 wide for shoes. Clothing or donations go to the Sunset Valley Police Department.