Buddhist temple in south-east Melbourne gutted by fire

<span>Photograph: Diego Fedele/AAP</span>
Photograph: Diego Fedele/AAP

A fire has gutted the Bright Moon Buddhist Society temple in Melbourne’s south-east.

Sunday night’s fire in Springvale could be seen for many kilometres and drew a crowd as orange flames engulfed the temple roof and a pillar of smoke rose from it.

The assistant chief fire officer Paul Foster called it a large, “rather spectacular” fire – the temple was about 150m by 100m and five storeys tall.

“It drew hundreds and hundreds of onlookers as well as a large contingent of firefighters,” Foster said.

Fire Rescue Victoria said crews had been called to the place of worship about 8pm and had arrived within minutes. Approximately 100 firefighters brought the fire under control by 10.30pm.

Foster said by the time they arrived the fire was well established.

Approximately 30 residents in the surrounding area had to be evacuated, and others were advised to remain indoors, close doors and windows and turn off heating and cooling systems.

No members of the public or firefighters were injured.

On Monday morning fire investigators were on the scene trying to investigate the cause but Foster said it was still too early to work out how it started.

Fire Rescue Victoria had been mindful of the cultural sensitivities of the community losing their place of worship, he said.

“A fire is a fire when you have to put it out but obviously there’s cultural sensitivities that we have to be aware of.”

“Not only is this a place of worship for the Buddhist community, it’s a place of meeting for the local residents and it’s taken many many years to build and as such, you know, the local residents do feel the loss quite deeply.”

The Bright Moon Buddhist Society originally used a garage in Springvale as a prayer hall for chanting when it formed in 1980. When numbers increased, a hall at a local Masonic Centre was leased as a temporary place of worship before the former sports complex at Springvale South was purchased.

The sports hall was converted into the Dharma Hall with minor renovations.

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Foster said as the incident controller he had worked with the local committee from the temple and their president all through the evening and would continue to do so on Monday to understand their concerns.

The representatives have told authorities the remains of former congregation members were stored in the temple, but due to concerns about the building’s structural integrity, authorities cannot let anyone enter until it is deemed safe.

“That’s a concern for us. We want to make sure that we look after and are respectful of the people that are [left] behind in there.”

Authorities are hopeful the remains are intact, Foster said, because they were in a part of the building that was protected.