Soldier’s family copes after house fire

Harmon family benefit

What: Benefit breakfast for the Harmon family.

When: 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Sunday.

Where: St. Finbarr’s Catholic Church in Grand Meadow.

How much: By donation.


Also: A fund has been set up in the family’s name at First Farmers & Merchants State Bank in Grand Meadow.

By Karen Colbenson

GRAND MEADOW — Just 28 days after Minnesota National Guard soldier Robert Harmon returned from duty to his home in Grand Meadow, a fire burned down his house and destroyed everything he owned.

Now the family is living day to day and trying to pick up the pieces before January, when Harmon will be reactivated to Afghanistan.

"We’ve had so much that we have to get done in a short period of time," Harmon said. "We lost everything."

Harmon, who served in Iraq in 2005, returned Oct. 2 from National Guard training in Oklahoma and said he was looking forward to settling in with his wife, Erin, and their 3-year-old son, Robert Lee.

But on Oct. 30, heating vegetable oil started a fire that destroyed the Harmons’ home and killed five cats and two birds.


Now the family is living in a hotel in Eagan, Minn., close to where their relatives live, until they can find a place to rent.

"It works for a little while, I guess, until we can figure out what to do," Harmon said.

He said the most difficult thing is trying to explain the situation to his son.

"We don’t want him to see the house because he’s already shown signs of trauma," Harmon said. "It’s one of the most difficult things to explain ... the cats are dead. They burned in the fire. I don’t know how to explain that to him."

Many other irreplaceable items also were lost, including the couple’s wedding album and most of their photos. Losing a lifetime of memories and belongings is "indescribable," Harmon said.

"There’s nothing left inside," he said. "I’m just trying to stay focused on what do I have to do next? What needs to happen? Just trying to stay productive and do the things that need to be done."

The only salvageable item was Robert Lee’s piggy bank. The family will keep it as a memento.

Insurance will cover much of what was destroyed, Harmon said, but the family will have to decide whether to stay in the Twin Cities near family or move back to Grand Meadow, where they’ve lived since 2001.


"It’s a wonderful place to raise a family," Harmon said. "We have a lot of friends in the neighborhood. There are definitely going to be big changes."

A version of this article appears in the Austin Post-Bulletin.

What To Read Next
Get Local