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Reward Doubles For Arsonist Capture

Aired 2/27/12 on KPBS News.

With a burned out shell of a cafeteria, kids at Birney Elementary eat outside in tents.

A mural at Birney Elemntary.
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Above: A mural at Birney Elemntary.

— The reward to find the culprit who started a January fire at Birney Elementary School doubled today to $10,000. San Diego Crime Stoppers is matching the $5,000 reward previously offered by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

The school in University Heights is open, but far from back to normal.

On the outside, the auditorium at Birney Elementary School looks cheerful with its bright yellow mural. But on the inside, it's still a charred, blackened mess that smells like a campfire.

The blaze started around midnight on Martin Luther King Day. Someone broke into the auditorium and poured accelerant in three areas before igniting the blaze.

Graziela Damian is Student Council President. She described the effect on the children.

"We do a lot of stuff in the auditorium and to have that all just taken away have it replaced with just a tent to be our cafeteria? It’s also where we do our after school programs. Everybody just feels really bad about it," she said.

Cayton Larmer is the Student Council Fire Marshall.

“When we have our awards, where are we going to go? We can’t go in our tent because that would take a lot of preparation and we’d have to haul a lot of crud out. I mean… where? What if it rains on that day?" the youngster asked. "And what about our performances? That’s a big issue."

Not all of the news has been bad. The community has sent in donations large and small. A pallet of juice drinks from Whole Foods sat outside the auditorium to replace some of the snacks that were destroyed. Several food trucks that serve students on Fridays donate 15 percent of their profits from one day each month.

The school does have insurance, but little repair work has been done so far.

Beret Dernbach, Student Council Vice President, thinks anyone with information should come forward.

"If anyone thinks they know who did this, then just tell us, because we’re really suffering, a lot,” the youngster said.

The auditorium will not be fixed until next school year.

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