Japanese American Buddhist temples suffer fire damages

On Dec. 31, 2023, the Seattle Betsuin Buddhist Temple became the victim of an arson attack, the Wheel of Dharma previously reported.

The temple is “still in the early phases of the restoration process,” Alex Sakamoto, an Arson Restoration Project Committee member, told the Nichi Bei News in a phone interview.

The temple is still in the clean-up phase, as “there was smoke damage throughout the whole temple,” he said.

He added that they had to throw much of the “physical content” away. However, the archives committee digitized some of the historical documents. He noted that “a lot of them were water damaged, had mold grow(ing) into the water damage,” he said.

The temple has not begun any reconstruction yet. The temple hopes to finish cleaning by September. He added that he is unsure how much the temple will need to fund its reconstruction and restoration.

Sakamoto said the temple will hold a “scaled down” public Obon festival July 20-21 from 2 to 8 p.m. at 1427 South Main St in Seattle. They will rely on food truck vendors because they are unable to cook as much as they do since their “rice cookers were damaged in the fire…”

The White River Buddhist Temple and Tacoma Buddhist Temple have assisted the Seattle Betsuin by hosting services, memorials and funerals.

A Methodist and Baptist church in the area also offered support.

On Jan. 4, the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s office filed three felony charges against Waylon James Williams, burglary in the second degree, reckless burning in the first degree and residential burglary at the temple, Douglas Wagoner, deputy director of communications of the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s office, wrote to the Nichi Bei News in an e-mail.

Wagoner wrote that “police did not refer this to prosecutors as a hate crime investigation. If police find and refer (to) information that could be reviewed as a hate crime, it will be reviewed with the same urgency as the case filed in January. At arraignment on Jan. 17, the defendant pleaded not guilty.”

The trial, which was initially scheduled for June 10, has been pushed back to July 17 at 9 a.m.

Arizona Temple Fire
In early February, the Arizona Buddhist Temple also suffered fire damages, according to the Rev. Lynn Sugiyama. The temple’s neighbor, Pulice Construction, suffered the main damage, Sugiyama said.

“It was close enough to the temple, where the east side of the roof — some of the tile melted … the heat broke the glass and we got … smoke damage on the walls and on the door,” Sugiyama said in a phone interview with the Nichi Bei News.

He added that “paint on the door melted,” but fortunately, the temple had another door, which helped protect the temple.

Sugiyama said the construction company’s insurance will “pay for the majority” of the fire damage the temple suffered.

The Arizona Buddhist Temple held their Bon Odori June 8 and their Obon service June 9.

To donate to the Arizona Buddhist Temple as it recovers from the fire damages, visit: https://arizona-buddhist-temple.square.site/.

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