Fire Closes Shelter
An early morning fire Tuesday temporarily closed an emergency shelter for battered women.
"It started upstairs about seven this morning," said Anne Friesen, director of Friend to Friend. "A smoke detector in an upstairs bedroom went off. We have Central Security, so the firemen came in record time. A few minutes later a downstairs smoke detector went off."
Nobody was injured in the blaze, which gutted the interior of the upper floor. Friesen credits quick response by the Carthage Volunteer Fire Department.
"Carthage Fire was there within minutes," she said. "If they had been 10 minutes later, the whole house would have gone. Another blessing is that, up until a few days ago, we were full."
The building is not safe to go in, but it can be repaired and they are planning on repairing the damage.
"We can't operate out of the shelter right now," she said. "We are at the office.
Only two abused women and two children were living at the shelter - called Serenity House - at the time of the fire. The two children were already on their bus headed to school, according to Friesen.
"They don't know about the fire yet," Friesen said in a brief telephone interview. "We won't tell them until we know where they will be and have someone to help them."
Recently, the shelter had housed 18 victims. All but two had moved on to new homes and jobs, Friesen said.
The county fire marshal is currently investigating to determine the cause of the fire, according to Friesen.
"Was it electrical, was it someone smoking?" she said. "We don't allow smoking in the shelter. We never had that problem. If that was the case, hopefully we will find out by the end of the day. The whole upstairs is completely blackened. The floor has caved in in certain places."
Friend to Friend started 20 years ago to help victims of domestic violence and sexual assault rebuild their lives. It offers guidance, maintains a 24-hour crisis line - (910) 947-3333 - and support groups, has programs for children, provides court advocacy, court and hospital accompaniment, and community education.
"Right now, we are focusing on the clients," she said. "A couple of days ago, we were completely full, and it could have been tragic. The good news is we have two clients right now - and two children - and everybody is safe."
For now, the two women and two children who had been with Friend to Friend will be relocated.
"I think what we are going to do is relocate them to surrounding county shelters," Friesen said. "We want to get them safe. We took the women to the coalition, because all they had were their nightgowns. All that they had - and it wasn't much - went in the fire.
"We are trying to get everything lined up for the children when they come home from school for the least amount of impact possible. It's a little boy and a little girl."
The location of Serenity House is not public in order to keep it safe.
"The abusers of these women are still looking for them," Friesen said. "One has had to relocate, because the abuser found her at another shelter."
While Serenity House was insured, it had just finished a major renovation done by volunteers. Now all that is gone.
"The upstairs will have to be entirely gutted," she said. "We will rebuild."
The Serenity House provides a safe residence where victims are given the opportunity and the support to heal physically and emotionally from the abuse of domestic violence and sexual assault.
"We really need folks to think about us once we start getting the construction completed," Friesen said. "We could use some help on that level in the future."
The good news is that the building was insured, so Friend to Friend can get going on its repair immediately.
"We have so many people that need the shelter," she said. "We are hoping we can start next week getting it worked on. We have been full most days. It was a real blessing that this is a transition time when many of our clients had moved away. We are so happy we weren't full." -
Contact John Chappell at email@example.com.
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