ATF looking into fire at Sikh temple that was under construction - KPTV - FOX 12

ATF looking into fire at Sikh temple that was under construction

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A massive fire in Vancouver ripped through an old athletic club that was being renovated into a Sikh temple Friday morning.

The fire, near 134th Avenue and 18th Street, broke out around 2:30 a.m.

At this point, there are no indications that the fire was a hate crime, but investigators with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are looking into the fire and trying to help determine the cause, which is standard with any fire that involves a place of worship.

"It's very depressing; all of the community is crushed," said Sarabjeet Teja, Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Guru Ram Das Sikh Community of Vancouver. 

Renovations at the temple, which was formerly the Landover Athletic Club, had been going on during the past year. The Sikh Community has owned the building since 2007, according to firefighters. They had planned to open the new temple in the coming months.

"We were devastated," said Teja, upon learning of the fire. "We've been working on this project for a long time."

On Friday the burned out building remained to hot for investigators to get inside and begin their work. The debris still smoldered hours after the fire broke out.

"It was quite an inferno," said neighbor Roy Lawrence.

Another neighbor, Jeff Onder, called 911 after waking up to the sound of screaming.

"We saw two guys yelling and screaming, and flames in the central (part) part of the building, about 15 feet in the air," said Onder.

Investigators said two people - the general contractor and an assistant - were staying inside the building but managed to escape.

Those two people told fire officials they didn't know how the fire started, but they did not suspect foul play. Fire investigators, however, say it's far too early to say whether or not the fire is suspicious.

"We as a community need to know why and how it happened," said Teja.

Teja said the temple was insured. He said the community is now faced with rebuilding.

"We are a very tight-knit community," said Teja. "Everybody comes together in moments like this."

Copyright 2012 KPTV (Meredith Corporation.) All rights reserved.

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