Blaze hits Buddhist temple

By LAURA CZEKAJ, Ottawa Sun, June 10, 2005

Fire causes up to $100Gs in damage to Somerset shrine just days after Kanata church torched
Ottawa, Canada
-- THE OTTAWA Buddhist community was dealt a blow yesterday after an arsonist set fire to a parade float stored outside a Somerset St. temple causing tens of thousands of dollars in damage to the building.

Several members of the Vietnamese Unified Buddhist Congregation of Ottawa-Carleton, located at 1002 Somerset St. W., lent a helping hand cleaning up glass and debris at the temple.

The fire was set at about 2:17 a.m. in a central alley that runs from one side of the building to the other.

Temple Master Dat Bon Thich, who lives in the rear of the temple, was awakened by sirens. He smelled smoke and got up to investigate, just as firefighters entered his apartment to evacuate him.

The many statutes, elaborate paintings and religious items in the temple were not damaged by flames, but by smoke and water.

Damage estimates soared to between $80,000 and $100,000.

Thich had been shopping around for insurance for the temple, which he opened 11 years ago. However, he currently doesn't have a policy.

Flames devour dragon

A golden dragon constructed by hand to celebrate the Buddha's birthday in May was reduced to a heap of ash. The temple's superintendent Tam Nguyen and Thich spent two weeks making the three-metre high and 10-metre long dragon at a cost of about $5,000.

The float was being stored in an alcove until a more permanent place could be found, said Nguyen.

The out-of-sight alley is a frequent hangout of prostitutes and their johns as well as loitering youths smoking cigarettes.

Winnie Lapp, owner of the Wine Exchange located next door, said his employee chased a group of kids out of the alley last week.

Shortly after the incident, a rock marked with the words "The Hintonburg Gang" and something to the effect of "We'll come get you" was found at the business.

The temple blaze follows a fire at Kanata's Christ Risen Lutheran Church on June 5, which caused more than $50,000 in damage by suspects believed to be young arsonists.

The loss of the temple will leave its roughly 50 regular congregation members scrambling to find an alternative place of worship.

Anyone who wishes to make a donation to the temple can call 231-2516 or 799-9055.

Man caught on tape

Ottawa police will use video surveillance from a nearby business to track down a person of interest seen in the area moments before the fire broke out. The white man caught on tape was wearing a light-coloured baseball cap and a backpack.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Ottawa police arson section at 236-1222, ext. 2758 or Crime Stoppers at 233-TIPS (8477).