Children's home gutted by fire

- A devastating fire destroyed a foster home for children Sunday night took the few possessions the girls who lived there owned.

For four years, the Open Arms Home for Children in Blue Ridge has been home for almost a dozen abused or neglected teen girls. Sunday evening, flames tore through the house. There is not much left.

"A lot of these girls never had anything. Finally, they were here, they had a sense of community, a sense of family, and in a second, it's all gone," said Peter Knutzen with Open Arms Home for Children.

The fire started around 8:30 p.m. The nine girls who were in the house were still awake. One of the staff members helped them get out of the house as the fire consumed everything in its path.

"Three hours later it could have been a disaster, they would have all been asleep, all would have been in bed. We were very fortunate," said Knutzen.

Investigators said the fire was intentionally set. A juvenile girl has been arrested.

"It was one of our girls. The first reaction is ‘How could this happen?’ Our girls come to us with a lot of different struggles," said Knutzen.

As for the rest of the girls in the house, Knutzen said they're scared and unsure. They range in age from 13 to 17 years old. For some, this was the place they felt safe.

"They're very upset. There are a lot of emotions running through their minds, like 'Where do I go next?', they're anxious," said Knutzen.

Knutzen said Open Arms House for Children serves families from four counties. He said they work closely with DFCS and CASA to serve children who need homes and emotional support.

Knutzen praised the first responders as well as the Blue Ridge community that has rallied together to help. They've found a place for the girls to stay for a few days while they figure out a long-term solution. They plan to rebuild, but that will take a while.

Knutzen said they have insurance, but that will only cover part of it. Knutzen said the girls lost everything and have very specific needs. If anyone wants to help out or to learn more about Open Arms House for Children, the website is oahome.org. The Facebook page is facebook.com/openarmsblueridge.

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