Leander family loses everything in house fire during Texas ice storm

It’s Thursday afternoon and Robert Harris is working his shift at Twin Liquors in Central Austin. He has a friendly demeanor and wears a badge that says, ‘Stay Positive.’

Customers he interacts with would never know what he’s carrying.

"Work is a distraction," said Harris. "You don't have to think about what's at home until after work."

What's at home is a pile of burned debris - remnants of a fire that destroyed all of his family’s belongings last week. 

The night of Jan. 31, during the peak of the ice storm, Harris and his wife and three kids were trying to stay warm. They were living at his father-in-law's house in Leander.

"We hooked up an old propane heater that was built with the house 20 years ago, and it was on all night, and it seemed to be fine, but when somebody left in the morning, it sparked up," he said. "Initially we thought that it was just like a little spark, so we stomped it out and I went outside to try to get a hose, and by that time, we realized that the bedroom that was behind the heater was already fully ablaze."

A propane heater sparked the house fire in the height of the Texas ice storm. 

The hose was frozen, and the fire spread rapidly as Harris ran back inside to get his kids. 

"I literally had to throw my youngest one out of a window," he said. "So we're walking around out in the ice and everything, waiting for the fire department to get there, watching the house burn."

Along with everything but the clothes on their back, all of their pets are believed to have died in the fire. 

"Between me and my father-in-law, we had five dogs and about seven cats," he said.

Back at work this week, Harris has some reminders that he can’t leave at home - burns on his body and hearing aids that were damaged in the fire.

But he does have the support of his friend and coworker, Dylan MacFarlane. 

"We’ve grown really close," said MacFarlane. "We work together almost every single day."

Macfarlane started a GoFundMe and printed fliers with a QR code that he is posting at businesses around the neighborhood.

"He’s a good friend of mine, he’s helped me out when I had some tough times last year," said MacFarlane. "He’s got a good heart, and he’s a really hard worker." 

For now, that’s Harris’ distraction - and his focus - with a family to support. Right now, they are living in a hotel. 

"It sucks that it's all gone," said Harris. "Your memories are gone, but we'll make new ones."

To donate to the Harris family, click here.