The Bright Moon Buddhist Society temple in Springvale, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia, was destroyed in a fire that began Sunday night.
Fire investigators had determined the cause of the blaze to likely be an electrical fault and were not treating it as suspicious, according to local media reports. Nonetheless, area Buddhists and the temple community expressed their sorrow over the loss.
“The fire caused significant damage to the building on Springvale Road when it caught alight,” a Victoria Police spokesperson said Monday. (The Age)
More than 150 firefighters were called to the conflagration at around 8 p.m. and spent some 2.5 hours working to bring the fire under control. Most devastating to many affiliated with the temple was the loss of an as-yet-unknown number of urns containing the cremated remains of loved ones—the current estimate is 5–10 per cent.
Bright Moon Buddhist Society president Vinh Loi Ly said he was “heartbroken” upon finding out about the fire. “I can’t sleep last night,” he said. “All night, no sleep, just [saying to myself] ‘Why? Why? Why?’” (The Age)
Jenny Tang, who lives in the area, said that her father’s ashes were in the temple. Her father had come to Australia from as a refugee Vietnam and was beloved by many in the community. “My dad was a very smart and intelligent man who built his life here. He lived a full life and has four kids, wife who all love him. We felt lost without him for a while and he always loved the community.” (9 News)
When Tang saw the flames, she was brought to tears. “When I saw photos of the burning, the minute I saw them, I was too devastated to move. I cried myself to sleep,” she said. “It feels like he died a second time and we feel the pain of losing him again.” (9 News)
The local authorities reported that no one was in the building at the time of the fire and there were no injuries. However, two passersby were treated for mild smoke-inhalation and 30 residents living nearby were temporarily evacuated for their safety.
The assistant chief fire officer on the scene, Paul Foster, said that the temple’s timber construction and the soft furnishings inside had helped the fire spread quickly.
“It’s a majestic building, but there’s been extensive damage to it. It was a very, very hard job,” Foster said. “Not only is it a place of worship, it’s a place of gathering for the local Buddhist community, and at all times, we were engaging with members from that community to inform them what we were doing and taking into account their concerns.” (The Age, The Hindu)
Bright Moon Buddhist Society president Ly told reporters that he had been at the temple just hours before the fire, leaving at around 6 p.m. He also said a cleaner was there but had finished her duties around 7 p.m.
Ly migrated to Australia in 1979 and the Bright Moon Buddhist Society was formed a year later. At that time, they practiced Buddhism in an area garage while they raised money to buy the site upon which the current temple sits. They made the purchase in the early 1990s and began work on the temple. Ly expressed hope that temple members and others would work together to raise funds to reconstruct the lost building.
“Members . . . maybe will donate again,” he said. “But I am too old—I’m in my 70s. Give me 20 years, but it’s too late.” (The Age)
The councilor representing the area, Sean O’Reilly, described it as saddening to learn that the temple had been “completely decimated.” He added that “it was obvious there was something very serious happening,” and described the temple as a “landmark” in the area. (The Age)
“This temple was a beacon in that community for Buddhists and for anyone who wanted to have some quiet time to meditate,” O’Reilly said. (The Age)
Daniel Andrews, the premier for the state of Victoria, where the temple is located, has announced that he will help push efforts to raise funds to rebuild the temple.
Fire damages Buddhist temple in Melbourne (The Hindu)
‘Not being treated as suspicious’: Buddhist community heartbroken over temple blaze (The Age)
Police not treating Buddhist temple fire in Melbourne’s south-east as suspicious (ABC News)
Fears family ashes are lost forever after Melbourne temple blaze (9 News)
Premier to push for rebuild after Buddhist temple blaze (Herald Sun)
Bright Moon Buddhist Society
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