Sunrise temple burns in YeosuHyangiram, a temple in Yeosu, South Jeolla Province and one of Korea’s favorite spots to watch the first sunrise of the year, burned down yesterday.
The cause of the fire is unknown. Police dispatched to the site are investigating along with the National Institute of Scientific Investigation. Twenty six monks and Buddhist believers at the temple escaped. No casualties were reported.
Firefighters estimate over 590 million won ($501,270) in damages as a handful of cultural assets, including a bronze Buddha statue and altar portrait of Buddha, inside the main building were destroyed.
According to investigators, the fire broke out at 12:24 a.m. yesterday. Three out of eight buildings on the temple grounds - the main building, belfry and office - burned.
“I spotted the flames shooting up from the main building when I woke up to head to the toilet late at night,” the temple’s master Buddhist said. “All the monks rushed to the site and immediately reported the incident to 119, but fire was all over the building’s roof by that time.”
Over 260 firefighters, neighbors and public service workers tried to contain the fire. The temple is about halfway up Mount Geumo, and the path leading to it was narrow. Police are speculating that strong coastal winds blowing toward the temple spread the fire from the main building to two others that were two to three meters (6.5 to 9.8 feet) away.
Investigators are also looking into a possibility of arson. Temple officials said there were very few tourists, and lighted candles in the main building were put out several hours before the blaze.
“Worship finished around 8:30 p.m. at the main building [on Saturday], and we all put out all the lighted candles and closed the door of the building,” temple officials told police. “Temple personnel patrolled the area until 11 p.m.”
Yeosu city government planned to hold its annual festival to celebrate the New Year from Dec. 31 to Jan.1, which includes watching the first sunrise from the temple and ringing the temple bell.
“The Yeosu city government will soon decide [whether to modify or cancel] the festival,” a Yeosu city government’s tourism department official said. “The city government is looking into all possibilities concerning the festival now. Even if the temple burned down, people can watch the sunrise at Geumo peak. Hyangiram is regarded as one of the country’s best destinations for the sunrise view but the peak as a whole is also a popular spot to watch the sunrise.”
By Kim Mi-ju, Chun Chang-hwan [firstname.lastname@example.org]