3-Alarm Fire Burns Down Cambodian Buddhist Temple in Oakland

Anywhere from 100 to 1,000 candles were lit for the ceremony, which falls at the same time of the "Butter Lamp Festival."

A three-alarm fire burned down a Cambodian Buddhist temple in Oakland early Tuesday morning on the eve of a religious celebration that demands the lighting of scores of candles.

The fire spread from the temple at 5212 E. 10th Street reported after 2 a.m. to five cars, three sheds and another home behind the temple, according to Fire Battalion chief Lisa Baker. The nearly 40-foot flames took 80 minutes to contain, she said.

Anywhere from 100 to 1,000 candles were lit for the ceremony, which falls at the same time of the "Butter Lamp Festival," celebrated at Tibetan monasteries. The ritual demands that lamps are lit with either yak butter or clarified ghee and lit to represent the illumination of wisdom.

The holiday is known as Makha Bucha — also called Maja Puja or Meak Bochea — celebrated on the full moon to honor the nine months after Buddha's enlightenment.

A visibly shaken monk told NBC Bay Area that the members were participating in some sort of celebration on Monday night and a candle possibly started the blaze, which was not officially confirmed by the fire department.

"Hot, hot, hot," Monk Vantha Som said in broken English. "That's why I get up."

Neighbor Korum Orum said simply: "I feel sad."

People began leaving memories of the temple on the group's Facebook page, including Dany Kheav, who wrote that her parents and aunts and uncles "worked to hard to build this place into a beautiful place. Gone. It's all gone."

While most of the temple is a loss, a Buddha statue brought from Cambodia to Oakland escaped unscathed.

Three people were taken to the hospital as a precautionary measure, Baker said. One neighbor's hair was singed, but no other injuries were reported.

The Oakland Cambodian Buddhist Society was founded by refugees in 1983, and whose members scraped together $40,000 as a down payment on the building, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The temple had also been the site of political infighting. In 2010, a judge decided after 10 years of restraining orders and allegations of stealing that the the Oakland Cambodian Buddhist Society had a right to ownership, despite being taken over in 2005 by the Massachusetts-based International Community of Khmer Buddhist Monks Center, the Oakland Tribune reported.

NBC Bay Area's Jodi Hernandez contributed to this report. 

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