2 teens arrested in Millbrae community center fire

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MILLBRAE (KTVU & BCN) - Two boys ages 16 and 17 were arrested Friday for allegedly setting fire that destroyed the Millbrae Community Center a day earlier, San Mateo County sheriff's officials said today.

The teens, both Millbrae residents, were arrested following the fire that started just before 4 a.m. Thursday along an exterior wall of the center at 477 Lincoln Circle.

The building's roof collapsed as firefighters struggled to extinguish the blaze. The fire was finally put out by about 8:15 a.m., according to the Central County Fire Department.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was called in to assist with the investigation, which led to the two juveniles Friday afternoon, sheriff's spokesman Detective Sal Zuno said at a news conference this afternoon.

Zuno said the boys confessed to starting the fire but said investigators at this point believe the blaze was "due to negligence and was not intentional." Deputies said the teenagers were playing with fire in the courtyard of the Millbrae Community Center on Lincoln Circle. The fire caught onto the building and climbed into the center’s attic. Fire crews got the call at 3:52 am, but didn’t have the fire under control until 8:15am. 

The fire destroyed the community center and forced the city to shut down the attached park, because a safety assessment needs to be done and water and electricity service has been suspended.

He said investigators got "important" information from the public, as well as social media, that led to the arrests. Neither boy has any prior criminal history, Zuno said.

Sarah Pape lives near the park, but had to bring her five-year-old daughter to Taylor Middle School’s parking lot to learn how to ride her bicycle. 

"That would have been kind of fun to take her new bike and new riding skills to go on the paths and play over at the park,” said Pape. "There’s a big lit up sign that says park is closed till further notice."

The fire also displaced the center’s summer programs, which include meal assistance, aerobics, senior bingo, and a kids’ summer camp. 

The morning of the fire, The Magnolia of Millbrae, an independent and assisted living community, offered to help host programs. 

 “We could host programs that range from anywhere to 30 people to about 80 people,” said marketing director Sherry Plambeck. 

 “This is an inter-generational community. We’d love to have children as well.”

The children’s summer camp found a new home at Taylor Middle School and the center’s bread program and brown bag lunches will be served at city hall. 

City officials will host a meeting August 8 at 6pm to discuss rebuilding the community center. 

Millbrae Mayor Anne Oliva said children in a summer camp that was being held at the center have been relocated to nearby Taylor Middle School, and the city is working on plans for what to do with other programs held there.

"We're going to get through this," Oliva said. Anyone with information about the fire is encouraged to call sheriff's Detective Pat Carey at (650) 259-2321 or email pcarey@smcgov.org. People wishing to remain anonymous can call a tip line at (800) 547-2700.

KTVU reporter Leigh Martinez contributed to this report.