'Heartbreaking:' Fire damages Raleigh youth center

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- It's too early to say whether or not a fire at a youth center building in Raleigh is suspicious, according to firefighters.

The fire broke out late Wednesday afternoon at an annex building of the Wilders Grove Youth Center at 4204 Willow Oak Road, off New Hope Road.

Heavy smoke could be seen coming from the concession stand. The roof sustained significant damage.

The building housed a nearly brand-new concession stand. There were also bathrooms in the building that were donated last year.

"We worked really hard especially on the concession stands," said Katrina Smith, whose son has played youth football here for three years. "We tried to get it up and going. It's really heartbreaking to see this. I know we will overcome it but right now it's really heartbreaking."

According to its website, Wilders Grove hosts Pop Warner football and cheerleading among its main youth activities.

The center has been around since the 1950s.

"It's awesome," Smith said. "It gives kids something to do, it takes them off the streets and it builds character. Everything here is volunteer."

It took 25 firefighters to put out the flames. One of them is Battalion Chief David Whitley. The place has special meaning for him as well.

"A couple of the firefighters and I played ball here when we were younger," Chief Whitley said. "The ballpark has been around for a while. In the 1980s, it was a really busy park."

The program opens next month for the summer and serves more than 100 kids in the area. Leaders said this will not stop them from opening.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation
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