Fire at Seattle Buddhist temple blamed on burning incense

By Susan Gilmore, Seattle Times, July 8, 2010

Seattle, WA (USA) -- Two women were hospitalized with minor injuries following a fire early Thursday at the Fa-Hsing Buddhist Temple in Seattle's Chinatown International District.

Fire Department spokeswoman Helen Fitzpatrick said the fire broke out about midnight at the temple at 1007 S. Weller St. Flames were shooting out of the first floor of the three-story building, which housed the temple, and it spread into the apartments above and the attic of the building. The top two floors were apartments.

Fire officials said the fire was caused by burning incense, which lit combustible material in the temple. The damage was estimated at $400,000.

Inside the temple, where the fire apparently started, the walls were blackened and relics melted. Broken glass littered the street.

Assunta Ng, with the Northwest Asian Weekly newspaper, said the temple was founded by Taiwanese monks more than 25 years ago. She said it is famous for its 1,000-hand Buddha, where people burn incense, kneel before it and pray. "It was a very dignified place," Ng said.

Forrest Chiou, who manages the apartments above the temple, said four of the apartment units were damaged in the blaze and he didn't know when the residents might be able to return.

One woman was rescued from the second floor, and two other women were taken to the hospital with complaints of back pain and smoke inhalation.

The American Red Cross opened a shelter to provide assistance to about 18 residents displaced by the fire.