According to crews at the scene, no one was injured during the fire at Butner Child Care Center, located at 305 West Centre Street. Approximately 27 children were at the center when the fire started, and they were evacuated safely to the First Baptist Church on West D Street.
The fire appeared to be confined to the west wing of the building. WRAL was told that a classroom and a bathroom were destroyed.
Authorities said the fire was reported around 11 a.m.
The facility's owner, Nancy Pearce, said she was outside in a backyard play area with about half the children and noticed smoke coming from the roof. She ran inside to investigate and said the fire appeared to be in the ceiling and exhaust fan in one of the bathrooms.
Center staff members took children who were inside the building outside, and Pearce sounded the fire alarm.
"My heart was beating, my stomach upset," Pearce said. "I was screaming. I didn't know what to do.
"I opened the bathroom door and looked up and saw the fan on fire, and it was melting."
Pearce said monthly fire drills that the center holds as required by state law proved to be beneficial. She said the children lined up against a fence and stayed in line, and everyone appeared to stay calm as they left the center property.
"The few who were in building came right out and went straight to the fence and stood there little soldiers," Pearce said, "just like we teach them to do."
Parents, meanwhile, were not as calm as the children. Dozens of frantic parents had to drive past the center to get to their children.
"I was scared," said a parent. "I was like: 'Oh, my God, my kids.'"
Said another: "Oh, it was unbelievable. It was the worst phone call I've ever gotten."
About 27 children who regularly go to the center were away from the center on a field trip. That left about 25 children at the facility, most of them outside.
Investigators called the fire an accident. Pearce called it a blessing that everyone got out safely.
"I said: 'I just need to sit down with my babies and hold my babies and try to get things back where they should be,'" Pearce said. "I'm sure we'll be fine."