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article imageCommunity center south of San Francisco destroyed by fire

By Nathan Salant     Jul 22, 2016 in Lifestyle
Millbrae - Officials in suburban Millbrae, 15 miles south of San Francisco, scrambled to find alternatives Thursday after the city's community center was destroyed by fire.
The Millbrae Community Center at 477 Lincoln Circle was the "heart" of the small town, perhaps best known for being adjacent to San Francisco International Airport.
Millbrae fire officials have asked for help from the U.S. Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms after finding evidence that the fire, which was noticed in the rear of the building around 4 a.m. Thursday, had been deliberately set,
The blaze quickly went to four alarms and required dozens of firefighters from cities throughout the region to extinguish, according to the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper.
"We are calling it 'suspicious,'" said John Kammeyer, chief of the Central County Fire Dept.
"That rules out accidental sources — we are looking at only malicious sources now,” he said.
No injuries were reported, the newspaper said, but officials and local residents expressed alarm at the effect the fire would have on community organizations and agencies that depended on the center for storage and meeting space.
Kammeyer said fire officials were looking for security camera footage from buildings and businesses in the area that might have noticed any suspicious activity and were testing residue from the blaze to see if any chemicals wee used to start or accelerate the fire.
The fire began at the rear wall of the center and spread through the building's attic, Kammeyer said.
He said the building was "a total loss," and estimated damage at more than $1 million, the newspaper said.
Millbrae City Clerk Angela Louis said the center was the main meeting point for city groups, summer camps and food programs, and even was rented out by local churches.
“It’s pretty much the heart of our community,” Louis said.
“It’s a devastating loss that’s affecting everyone,” she said.
Youth camps scheduled to meet on Thursday were moved to nearby Taylor Middle School, as officials scrambled to find longer-term replacement facilities.
Mercedes Segura, who lives across the street from the center, said parents who did not know about the fire drive up to the center during the day Thursday and were surprised to find out it was shut down.
"It's really sad," she said. "It's the central, main point here in Millbrae."
The community center did not have a sprinkler system and the building's acoustic ceiling insulation probably contributed to the spread of the blaze and made it more difficult to extinguish, officials said.
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