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Candle Blamed for Lunar New Year Blaze at Buddhist Temple in Southern California

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Firefighters battle the blaze at Chua Vien Minh temple. From latimes.com
Firefighters battle the blaze at Chua Vien Minh temple. From latimes.com

A Buddhist temple in the city of Garden Grove in southern California was devastated by a late-night fire on 5 February following Lunar New Year celebrations. Although an investigation into the cause is still underway, firefighters believe it was likely sparked by an unattended candle. No casualties were reported.

Two women sleeping at Chua Vien Minh temple, including temple head Sister Thich Nu Dieu Phuoc, were able to escape the flames after being awoken by Buddhist neighbors. 

In an interview with CBS Los Angeles, local resident Chinh Nguyen explained that he saw the fire from his house and ran up to the building to warn the women. He and his brother Tony then proceeded to bring hoses in an attempt to extinguish the fire. 

Tony Nguyen expressed concern that “the first day of New Year, a thing like this happened, you know, it’s not a good sign.” (CBS Los Angeles)

While nobody was harmed in the fire, Captain Thanh Nguyen of the Garden Grove Fire Department said he believed that Chua Vien Minh temple was beyond saving. He explained that by the time firefighters arrived on the scene, the fire was already well underway and had spread “into the living room area and attic.” (CBS Los Angeles)

Lunar New Year observations at Chua Vien Minh before the fire. From nguoi-viet.com
Lunar New Year observations at Chua Vien Minh before the fire. From nguoi-viet.com

The source of the conflagration is still under investigation, however Captain Nguyen said a candle left burning on an alter was the most probable cause. “An altar on the porch had a lit candle,” Nguyen said. “Somehow it burned and extended into the house.” (Los Angeles Times)

The fire was extinguished with the help of more than 30 firefighters shortly after midnight on 6 February. The damage has been estimated at US$450,000.

Located at the heart of Orange County’s Little Saigon, the building was formerly a residential home until it was converted into a Buddhist temple six years ago. Community and temple members alike expressed dismay at the incident. 

Matters may have been further complicated by misleading reports immediately following the incident, with some media outlets mistakenly stating that the neighboring Chua Viet Nam temple that had caught fire. 

One Twitter user explained: “The house that burned down is not called Chua Viet Nam. This is very misleading considering the actual Chua Viet Nam is huge and very well known in the community, so to report that it has burned down when really its completely fine is a bit alarming.” (Annalit Twitter)

Damage to Chua Vien Minh has been estimated at US$450,000. From nguoi-viet.com
Damage to Chua Vien Minh has been estimated at US$450,000. From nguoi-viet.com

Over the next couple of weeks, communities in the area will continue to participate in Lunar New Year festivities. These include the upcoming Los Angeles Chinatown firecracker run (16–17 February), as well as events held at Disneyland Resort and Universal Studios, and a number of opportunities to worship and celebrate at local temples. 

The fire department has advised temples and other religious institutions with altars to be particularly mindful at this time of the year to ensure that all candles and open flames are extinguished before being left unattended.

See more

Burning Candle Sparked Fire That Destroyed Buddhist Temple In Garden Grove (CBS Los Angeles)
Candle Ignites Fire, Destroys Buddhist Temple in Garden Grove (KT LA)
Altar candles set Buddhist temple in Garden Grove on fire (Los Angeles Times)
Chùa Viên Minh ở Little Saigon bị cháy rụi ngày Mùng Một Tết (Người Việt)

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