This was going to be a night for the family to go to bed early in their home at 1903 Seventh in Brownwood.

It was Monday night, and schools would resume the next morning after the Christmas break.

Two of the children Camille Barrera, 23, and her boyfriend, Arthur Villarreal, are raising — a girl, 2, and a boy, 1 — would be starting back to Head Start. Another girl, 5, would be resuming class at Woodland Heights Elementary.

But Monday evening, there some tasks to attend to.

Some Kool-Aid had gotten spilled onto one of the bunk-bed mattresses in the two girls' bedroom. Someone in the family took the twin-sized mattress into the bedroom occupied by Barrera and Villarreal and leaned it up against a piece of furniture.

Barrera turned on an open face gas heater to warm up the room and dry out the mattress. Then she went to the Family Dollar next to Brookshire's to buy food and snacks, and mindful of the cold, a couple of toboggan hats for Villarreal, who works for a construction company.

Barrera was at the register shortly before 7 p.m. when her cell phone rang. The caller told her the Seventh Street house was on fire, and Barrera could hear sirens over her phone. But everyone had made it out uninjured.

Barrera, 23, rushed out of the store.

Later, Barrera learned from Fire Marshal Buddy Preston that the mattress that had been leaning against the furniture had fallen onto the gas heater, starting the fire.

The home's walls and roof are damaged, but still standing. The interior, though, is ruined. "The house is going to be a total loss," Preston said Tuesday morning. Anything that didn't get burned, Preston said, sustained heavy smoke and water damage.

A total of six people lived in the home, located at the corner of Avenue K and Seventh in a quiet, older neighborhood: Barrera, Villarreal, the three children, and Barrera's cousin, Javier Ramirez, 22. Ramirez was the caller who notified Barreraof the fire while Barrera was at the Family Dollar store.

The home is owned by Barrera's parents, Jesus and Lupe Barrera. Until recently, the elder Barreras had lived in the home before moving into a residence on the campus of the Brownwood state school, where Lupe Barrera works.

Tuesday morning, family members gathered at the home as Preston and other fire firefighters prepared to begin digging through the home's gutted interior. Preston  had not, at that time, determined the fire's cause.

"It started in the back bedroom," Preston said before entering the home with other firefighters. "There was an open face gas heater in there."

Ramirez said he'd been sleeping in his bedroom when Villarreal came out of the rest room, saw the fire and woke him up. The two men got the two children who were home — the oldest was visiting other family — outside.

Brownwood and Early firefighters battled the blaze, hampered by the extreme cold of that Monday night. "Our guys have to go through rehab and warm up and thaw their gloves out where they can go back to work," Preston said. "That's why we brought in extra people (Monday) night."

By mid-morning Tuesday, Jesus and Lupe Barrera had arrived at the ruined home they'd owned since the early 1980s.

She believed the house had been built in the 1930s or '40s, and said its previous occupants had included the late Brown County Judge James Bunnell.

"I know this house has a lot of history," Barrera said, adding that her two daughters had been raised there. 

As Lupe Barrera watched the house burn Monday night, she thought about all the history and the memories. . "We've had a lot of people live with us, lot of family that have lived with us off and on throughout the years," Barrera said.

"We've had so many gatherings here. But that's all I was just thinking about — all the memories. We used to always kid around, we used to always say there was a ghost in this house. The kids always believed there was a ghost. I was kidding last night. I said 'all our ghosts are burning up,' trying to make light of a horrible situation."

A few minutes later, Preston said he'd found the cause of the fire.

"Found a twin-sized mattress on an open face gas heater," Preston said. "It had fallen over on the heater. It was right there where I knew I should be looking.

"I had some of the guys go in there and start tearing some of that other stuff away. We found the springs and started cleaning it off and we found the heater laying there too. That's the way the report will read — mattress fell over on an open face heater, accidental in nature."

Fortunately the was insured, its owners said.

The American Red Cross is assisting the family, and the community is already responding with donations of clothing and other items. 

Camille Barrera said the family is staying with other family members at 1611 Second, where donations can be brought.

Local businesses including Chili's having fund-raisers. Other fund-raisers will include a Zumba event at TK Fitness and a Herbalife event at the Boys and Girls Club.