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Fire Heavily Damages Buddhist Temple In Westminster

WESTMINSTER, Colo. (CBS4) - A fire ripped through a Buddhist temple in Westminster Monday morning and injured a monk.

The Lao Buddhist Temple of Colorado, located at 106th and Dover, was heavily damaged and it's assumed some religious artifacts inside were damaged.

The fire broke out just after 6 a.m. and continued to smoke after daybreak. At one point firefighters were pulling down walls inside in an effort to prevent Buddha statues and other religious artifacts from being destroyed.

Ounkham Vennasack, 77, a senior monk at the temple, was taken to the hospital after he suffered burns on his forehead and inhaled some smoke. After waking to find the temple in flames, he ran out of his sleeping quarters and warned monks in the small house next door to get out. He is expected to fully recover.

Vennasack helped build the temple 30 years ago.

There were more than 50 gold, bronze and ivory Buddhas inside the temple, including one that is more than 15 feet tall. Temple secretary Fy Khanthathixay said they had been passed through the generations, and that some were more than 100 years old.

"I'm glad that everybody was still alive and got out in time. That was my main concern this morning," Khanthathixay said. "I don't care -- the rest of it. We can rebuild later."

There was no immediate word on a cause of the fire, although officials said they didn't think the circumstances were suspicious. Westminster fire officials said the building just passed inspection in the summer.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is assisting in the investigation, a fairly common procedure when there is a fire at a religious institution.

(credit: CBS)

The temple services more than 1,000 people, mostly from the Laotian community. It describes itself as follows on their website:

The Lao Buddhist Temple of Colorado was established in 1988 as a non-profit organization and have filed the article of incorporation with the State of Colorado. We have over 200 household members and a variety of services and educational programs available for everyone. The Lao Temple is a public place for everyone to come and enjoy our religious culture. Lao Buddhists belong to the Theravada tradition dissented from Sri Lanka, India, Cambodia, and Mahayana.


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