Children Center Fire Photo

A fire was reported early Friday morning at the former Cochise Children’s Crisis Center in Huachuca City.

 

HUACHUCA CITY — A suspicious early morning fire has left the inside of a former safe haven for needy children charred and uninhabitable and one needy family without a place to stay.

Huachuca City and Whetstone fire personnel responded to the former Cochise County Children’s Center in Huachuca City after a report of a fire at 5:01 a.m. Friday with a single ladder truck and one pump truck. Fire and smoke had made its way through much of the interior of the facility before crews were able to fully extinguish the fire about 45 minutes later, said Huachuca City Fire Chief Jon Allmon.

“It’s a loss on the inside,” Allmon said of the damage.

Four people living inside the facility, now owned by Sierra Vista-based contractor Mike Rutherford, were able to exit the building safely.

“They were all checked out by medical personnel and cleared,” Allmon said.

The precise nature of the fire—its origins within the building, if any substances were used to accelerate the flames—were still under investigation by fire investigators from the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office and Sierra Vista Fire and Medical Services, who were asked to assist with the investigation.

“That’s what we’re trying to figure out,” he said. “They’re taking samples now.”

Allmon stopped short of calling the incident arson, but did say the fire was “suspicious in nature.”

For years, the former Children’s Center, located at 721 Gonzales Blvd., served as the only non-detention and foster care location in the county where children involved in domestic disputes or other chaotic family scenarios could be taken. The nonprofit organization that ran the center, Open Inn, voted to close the center in August 2014 after a gradual loss of contracts with local and state agencies to house children under these circumstances. Open Inn itself closed down the following month.

Six weeks ago, Rutherford, owner of Rutherford DIversified Industries, purchased the facility in the hope of eventually resuming services there, complimenting the efforts at the new Cochise Family Advocacy Center, which he also owns, along with his wife, Lori.

“We have such a need for a place for children taken out of homes by DCS (Department of Child Safety), it kind of goes hand in hand with what we’re doing in Sierra Vista,” Rutherford said Friday.

In the short time since he’s taken over the facility, it has been the target of at least one instance of vandalism, with intruders slashing furniture and otherwise damaging the interior, and “just making a general mess in the whole place.”

Those who were living at the facility at the time of the fire were there at Rutherford’s invitation, in exchange for keeping the building in good repair, he said. Red Cross volunteers on Friday provided the family with emergency funds for food, clothing and temporary shelter.

Despite the damage to the interior, Rutherford said he had every intention of restoring the property.

“I deal with problems all the time, being a businessman and having 60 employees, I just take problems and deal with them, put it behind me and move on. This hasn't raised my blood pressure any, although it irritates me that we have someone out there that has such little care and caution toward other people to do this,” he said.