Firefighters battle a massive blaze at the Wutai Shan Buddhist Garden Temple near Bethany
Fire crews from Kawartha Lakes and Cavan-Monaghan joined forces to fight a fire at the Wutai Shan Buddhist Garden on Ski Hill Road, south of Omemee.
According to Kawartha Lakes Fire Rescue Service Fire Chief Terry Jones, the blaze was reported shortly before 2 p.m. Sunday (July 24), involving one of the temple structures currently under construction.
The cause of the fire is currently unknown as well as the estimated damage. No injuries were reported.
Jones noted that while the fire is technically within the jurisdiction of Cavan-Monaghan, crews from Omemee, Lindsay, Bethany, Pontypool and Janetville Halls were the first responders on the scene.
For several hours, fire engines could be seen coming and going from the site, filling up near a water supply to fight the blaze.
Lindsay’s aerial truck was also brought to the scene and “made great progress” in bringing the three-story fire under control.
Terry Leslie, who lives near Hogsback Road, said he and his wife Donna McMullen were at home when they saw smoke shortly after 2 p.m.
“We went out to see and that’s when we could really see the flames and knew it wasn’t just someone burning brush,” Leslie said. “I went straight into the house and called 911, but they had already received a bunch of calls.”
The pair returned outside armed with binoculars and caught the suddenly blooming fire.
“You could tell he was well swallowed up at the time. You could see the roof had collapsed because the flames were really shooting out,” Leslie added.
According to the Cham Shan Temple website, the main wooden temple at the site was built in Tang-style architecture with the ancient Chinese construction method called “Dougong”, using interlocking wooden supports without nails. The Grand Temple is a replica of the 1,200-year-old Foguang Temple in China, which is still in good condition.
The construction materials of the main temple consist of high quality rosewood, camphor wood and yew wood. All wood building materials are treated with five tons of natural varnish to prevent rotting, insect infestation and splitting.
The entire property spans over 530 acres and is one of four purchased by the Cham Shan Temple Buddhist Association of Canada. Development is expected to take decades. The total project budget was estimated at $80 million, with construction costs covered by donations.
The garden had been closed to visitors due to the COVID-19 pandemic and has been postponed to reopen to the public in 2023.
With files from Peterborough this week