Celebratory Candles Started Fire That Burned Buddhist Temple

Celebratory candles left burning overnight appear to have started a massive fire that destroyed a Buddhist temple in East Oakland early this morning and burned two other homes, a fire battalion chief said.

Fire crews were called to the Oakland Cambodian Buddhist Temple at 5212 E. 10th St. at about 2:15 a.m. and found the temple engulfed in flames, Battalion Chief Ian McWhorter said.

The flames spread to two other buildings, three sheds, five cars, a boat and a motorcycle, McWhorter said. Firefighters called a three-alarm response and it took nearly 90 minutes to get the fire under control.

Once the flames were doused, the temple was left a skeleton and will need to be bulldozed. The spreading flames gutted a two-story house next door and bubbled paint and broke windows on the outside of a another house, McWhorter said.

There were about 14 people inside the temple when the fire broke out. Only four lived there full-time, but more were visiting because of a holiday celebration.

The celebration appears to have some role in the fire starting. As many as 1,000 candles were left burning in the temple overnight, which fire investigators suspect spread to the rest of the temple, McWhorter said.

Three of the temple occupants were injured as they escaped the burning temple and were taken to a hospital, but their injuries were minor, such as smoke inhalation or scrapes, McWhorter said.

The monks escaped more serious injury by having working smoke detectors, McWhorter stressed, including a system that called their cellphones.

“Had it not been for the smoke detectors, I can’t imagine what would have happened,” McWhorter said.

Residents of the other two homes were left temporarily displaced. The occupants of the home with exterior damage will probably be able to return in a day or two, but residents of the other house will need to rebuild. A total of 16 people were displaced, McWhorter said.

Scott Morris, Bay City News

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