Community comes to the aid of Open Arms


BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Tragedy brought to the forefront this week a charity that has rarely been spotlighted in our community. Some had heard of The Open Arms Home for Children, but because of the nature of the charity and the need for privacy, awareness of this cause is often overshadowed.

Blue Ridge, Fannin County, Georgia, The Open Arms Home for Children, Open Arms, Peter Knutzen, Fannin County EMA, Fannin County Fire Department, Charity, Fire, CASA, DFACS, Toys for Tots, Blairsville, Captain Justin Turner, Fannin County Sheriff's Department, Blairsville, Union, Gilmer, Towns, United Community Bank, Blue Ridge Cotton Company, Gather, Harry Norman Realtors, Old Toccoa Farms

A fire devastated the Open Arms home late Sunday evening.

A call came in at 8:36 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 26, that the home for Open Arms was on fire, and emergency responders rushed to the scene. All of the girls housed at the Open Arms facility, as well as the staff, were able to make it out safely, but the home and personal belongings were devastatingly damaged.

State investigators determined that the fire was intentionally set, and Captain Justin Turner with the Fannin County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that a juvenile was in custody. The investigation remains open as more details emerge about the fire.

Peter Knutzen, vice president of Open Arms, did confirm, “A couple of girls involved with the fire, that were in the home, are no longer in the home.”

As with many tragedies, there is a beautiful outpouring of support and love shown in the aftermath. This has been the case with the Open Arms disaster and the support of the community in the wake of the devastation.

“The first responders, CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), DFACS (Division of Family and Children Services), and the general community of Blue Ridge and Blairsville and the surrounding area has done an incredible job of responding.” Knutzen began when questioned about the response of the community.

A photograph from 2010 posted to Open Arms Facebook page shows the excitement of the opening of the home. The caption reads, “The Open House at Open Arms. Finally!”

Wal-Mart of Blue Ridge helped the night of the fire with getting the girls the essentials needed for the following days. During their weekly luncheon, the Rotary Club of Blue Ridge, the Blue Ridge Lodging Association, as well as individuals and separate companies, announced monetary donations to be made to The Open Arms Home for Children.

Knutzen showed happiness as he recognized everyone coming together to support this cause. When talking about individuals who have offered help, Knutzen said, “Marines, guys that work with Toys for Tots, they’re going to go up and get everything out of the shed. Rakes, lawnmowers, everything that was not burnt and secure it.”

Knutzen, though deeply saddened by the recent events, displayed optimism when discussing the girls in their care and the future of Open Arms. “These girls are in crisis. They come from crisis. So for them, they are resilient in many ways. We have a wonderful group of girls with us right now,” Knutzen said.

As for how the girls are doing, Knutzen explained, “They feel let down because of what happened. The anxiety now is what happens next. We are assuring them, the best we can, that they are going to stay together. The girls find this home, the home they want to be at.”

Shortly after this interview, word did come from DFACS that the girls would be able to stay together, relieving one of the many obstacles to be faced in the process of rebuilding. In an update on the Open Arms Facebook page, the good news was announced:

“Thanks to DFACS, our girls will remain here together and will continue schooling and extra-cirricular activities in Fannin County. This is a true blessing and for sure an answer to our prayers.”

While the days, weeks, and months to come will be a struggle to this charity as they replace and rebuild, Open Arms would like to the community to know how much their continued support means and how grateful they are. “We have an incredible community that has, and always, responds to crisis,” Knutzen concluded.

If you would like to make a donation or learn more about The Open Arms Home for Children please visit their website at Donations can also be made at several locations in Blue Ridge and Blairsville. These locations include: United Community Bank (Main Branch), Blue Ridge Cotton Company and Gather (East Main Street, Blue Ridge), Blue Ridge Cotton Company (Blairsville), Harry Norman Realtors (West Main Street, Blue Ridge) and Old Toccoa Farms (Mineral Bluff).


Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at


Natalie Kissel

Rotary, Lodging Association help Open Arms, others at luncheon


BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – During their weekly luncheon Tuesday, Nov. 28, at the Fannin County Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club of Blue Ridge collected $230 to give to Open Arms after a fire destroyed the organization’s home late Sunday night.

Members donated various increments  during Rotary’s Giving Tuesday, and 100 percent of the proceeds went directly to Open Arms to assist with recovery efforts.

Amanda Davis, president of Rotary Club of Blue Ridge, further announced Rotary had already given a $1,000 donation to Open Arms on Monday.

Open Arms will also receive a $5,000 gift from the Blue Ridge Lodging Association (BRLA). C.J. Stam with BRLA announced the donation at the luncheon.

“So (BRLA) heard about the (Open Arms) fire. That night, immediately, we all started talking and were like ‘We’ve got to do something,'” Stam explained. “We pulled together $5,000 additional dollars that we’re going to be giving to Open Arms. As well as individual companies – member companies – of the Lodging Association have already raised another $2,000 on top of that we will be giving to Open Arms.”

Snack in a Backpack received a $4,000 donation from Rotary Club of Blue Ridge and a $7,915 donation from the Blue Ridge Lodging Association (BRLA). From left, C.J. Stam (BRLA), Snack volunteer Toots Green, Snack Program Director Angela Huffstetler, Jackie Self (Rotary), Amanda Davis (Rotary) and Greg Spenser (BRLA).

Additionally, Rotary presented Angela Huffstetler, program director of Snack in a Backpack, with a $4,000 check. Huffstetler announced Snack in a Backpack has packed over 5,000 bags and served 15,000 meals to an estimated 375 to 400 Fannin County School System students. Started in 2009 after it was realized that many students were going without adequate nourishment after leaving school for the week on Fridays, Snack provides food for students to take home them on weekends.

Snack also received a generous donation from the Lodging Association as Stam, of BRLA, presented Huffstetler with a $7,915 check.

FLAG (Fannin Literacy Action Group) received a $2,192 donation from Rotary. Teresa Ross, of FLAG, explained that the non-profit organization partners with North Georgia Technical College to offer GED, college preparation and English as a second language courses, among others, for students from age 16 and older.

Rotary donated $1,000 to Joshua’s Dream Ranch, an animal-assisted therapy ranch near Blairsville that specializes in helping special-needs children and children diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses. “They (the children) come out to the ranch to be cowboy for the day,” Debbie Lynn, development director of Joshua’s Dream Ranch, explained of the therapeutic value of the ranch. “I appreciate your help and willingness to help.”

Mountain Education Center (MEC) received $1,000 from the Rotary Club of Blue Ridge. From left, Charlie Edmondson (Rotary), MEC counselor Chris Martinez, MEC student Makenzie Ledford, Rotary Club President Amanda Davis and Ed Wolpet (Rotary).

Mountain Education Center was presented a $1,000 check from the Rotary. Chris Martinez, a counselor at the Fannin Mountain Education Charter High School, explained the organization consists of 19 different sites throughout the north Georgia area and its goal is to help students receive their high school diploma. Martinez said the organization provides flexible schedules to its students and hopes to graduate 25 students at its Fannin location this school year. Martinez brought with her one of the school’s students, Makenzie Ledford, who is working toward her diploma and plans to attend Roane State in Harriman, Tennessee, after graduation to pursue a dental hygienist certification. “I’m very thankful to you guys,” Ledford told the Rotary Club members.

Shop with a Cop receives $1,000 from Rotary Club of Blue Ridge. From left, FCSD Officer Darvin Couch, Pam Fink, Amanda Davis, FCSD Officer Jim Burrell.

Officers Darvin Couch and Jim Burrell, of the Fannin County Sheriff’s Department, received a $1,000 donation from Rotary for Shop with a Cop. Officer Couch stated the program is in its fourth year as it provides area children with $100 each to spend on gifts for themselves or others. Couch said last year the program helped 70 children from 31 different families. This year, the program will take place on Dec. 9. Couch explained much of the thrill he has seen in the past has come from watching what the children buy, not only for themselves but for their families. “Their money wasn’t all for them,” Couch stated.

Lastly, Ferst Foundation, an organization designed to promote childhood literacy, was given a $5,000 donation from Rotary. The foundation sends one book a month to children under the age of five whose parents or legal guardians register their child for the program. To date, Ferst Foundation has provided over 30,000 books, at no charge, to children in Fannin County, according to June Slesser with the foundation. Currently, 407 books per month are being given to children in Fannin, and Slesser stated just under 1,000 children are eligible to receive a book per month from the foundation.


Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at




Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

Fannin County Fire Department responds to multiple fires

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BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Fannin County Emergency Response Teams responded to several fire-related calls over the weekend and into early Monday morning.

On Saturday evening, the Fannin County Fire Department (FCFD) responded to a 9:12 p.m. call of a residential fire at a rental cabin on 885 Brittney Dr. in Epworth. Crews arrived on scene at 9:34 p.m.

According to Fire Chief Larry Thomas, the fire began in an outside chimney and quickly spread to endanger the house. Fourteen firefighters along with three engines and two tankers were able to contain the fire to the chimney.

No injuries were sustained as a result of the incident, Thomas said.

FetchYourNews, Blue Ridge, Fannin County, Georgia, Mineral Springs Apartments, Fire, Larry Thomas

Miner Springs Apartments fire. Photo Courtesy of Kelly Wisner.

Later in the weekend, FCFD was dispatched to a report of a fire located at the Mineral Springs apartment complex at 3:46 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 26.

Kelly Wisner, a resident of Mineral Springs Apartments, recounted the events that took place that afternoon. “I had just woken up from a nap and looked out my window,” Wisner explained. “I saw smoke and told my husband the building across from us was on fire. We immediately got on our shoes and split.”

Kelly Wisner and her husband, Jason Wisner, ran to the building that was on fire and adjacent buildings to warn residents of the fire and the need to evacuate and move their vehicles. Kelly Wisner also placed a call to 911 during this time.

Meanwhile, Jason Wisner ran into the building that was aflame and banged on doors alerting everyone to get out. Kelly Wisner, when speaking of her husband’s courageous act, said, “He doesn’t look at himself as a hero. He just says that he did what anyone would do.”

Chief Thomas stated the fire started on the back deck of a ground floor unit. Thomas said, “The fire traveled up the wall to the second floor and into the attic. We were able to put the fire out in the apartment that it had engulfed and put the fire out in the attic.”

According to a representative with Mineral Springs Apartments, three units suffered damaged due to the fire. All units in the building, however, must remain vacated until an inspection can be done and power is restored.

In addition to the residents who got out of the building safely, FCFD also reports that they were able to rescue six cats, one pet snake and one pet canary.

FCFD also responded to a fire located at the Open Arms home. A call came in at 8:36 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 26, and units were on scene within 18 minutes.

Open Arms is a nonprofit organization for children who have been abused or neglected. The program offers a number of services including short-term residential care.

According to a post made on Open Arms Facebook page:

“It’s with a sad heart that I inform you that around 8:30 p.m. last night (Sunday Night) a fire occurred at the Open Arms Home for Children. All of our girls and staff got out of the home safely and unharmed but our home is most likely a complete loss.”

It went on to say:

“God spared our girls and staff tonight. A few hours later and they all might have been in a deep sleep and the outcome could have been much more devastating.”

A state investigator was on the scene of the Open Arms home fire for suspected arson. Captain Justin Turner with the Fannin County Sheriff’s Department was able to confirm that the fire was intentionally set and a juvenile is currently in custody.

The case remains an open investigation.

At 1:49 a.m. Monday, Nov. 27, FCFD responded to the scene of a truck fire at Advanced Disposal located at 10169 Lakewood Hwy. in Mineral Bluff.

One of Advanced Disposal’s compactor trucks had caught fire. The cause of the fire is undetermined and currently still under investigation.

No one was injured during this fire. The compactor truck suffered significant damage and damage to other vehicles parked nearby was also reported .


Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at


Natalie Kissel

Open Arms 9/2/16



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