Buddhist temple burns in Fort Worth

| August 25, 2009

FORT WORTH — Fire heavily damaged a Buddhist temple in northwest Fort Worth late Monday night.

The two monks who live at the Wat Lao Thepnimith complex at 7129 Marvin Brown Street said they heard a noise outside around 11:30 p.m. When they went outside, they found fire coming through the roof of the ornate one-story main ceremonial temple.

"By the time the first unit got here just six minutes later, the fire was well-involved," said Fort Worth Fire Department spokesman Lt. Kent Worley. "Unfortunately, due to the unique structural nature of a Buddhist temple like this, it’s extremely dangerous for the firefighters to go inside, so they stayed out the entire time."

Joseph Dietrich, a member of the Wat Lao Thepnimith congregation, said the temple is used by the monks for meditation and worship and also for celebratory occasions like the Laotian New Year.

"They’ve had this building here for nine years and said they’ve never locked the doors," Dietrich explained, adding that the site was surrounded by security cameras.

The loss to the community is significant.

"They were talking thousands and thousands and thousands of work hours that are tied up in just the outside walls," Dietrich said. "Each one of the little tiles on the building takes about an hour, hour-and-a-half to make, and there’s literally thousands of them wrapped around the entire building."

"The Buddas that they have on the inside, you’re looking at at least 600 to 700 man hours just on one full-size Budda," Dietrich added.

The cause of the fire remained under investigation. The initial damage estimate was $350,000. "That may be quite low considering the vastness of this temple and the uniqueness of it as well and the ornamental items that are there," Worley said.

But there appeared to be no question about what happens next.

"This is a close-knit community, and they’re going to rebuild it," Dietrich said. "When tragedies happen, people band together and it reunites communities, and right now, that’s what this part of Fort Worth needs."

WFAA-TV photojournalist Mike Zukerman contributed to this report.



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