OAKLAND (CBS SF) — Celebratory candles left burning overnight appear to have started a massive fire that destroyed a Buddhist temple in East Oakland early Tuesday morning and burned two other homes, a fire battalion chief said.

Fire crews were called to the Oakland Cambodian Buddhist Temple at 5212 E. 10th St. at about 2:15 a.m. and found the temple engulfed in flames, Battalion Chief Ian McWhorter said.

“And I just saw the flames. They come out from the back,” said Buddhist monk Vantha Som, who was among those who fled the building.

The flames spread to two other buildings, three sheds, five cars, a boat and a motorcycle, McWhorter said. Firefighters called a three-alarm response and it took nearly 90 minutes to get the fire under control.

“It quickly spread to the rear of the structure that was on fire as well as to the house to the right of it,” said Oakland Fire Department Battalion Chief Lisa Baker. So at one point, we had three structures going. Some sheds in the rear, as well as cars going.”

Once the flames were doused, the temple was left a skeleton and will need to be bulldozed. The spreading flames gutted a two-story house next door and bubbled paint and broke windows on the outside of a another house, McWhorter said.

There were about 14 people inside the temple when the fire broke out. Only four lived there full-time, but more were visiting because of a holiday celebration.

The celebration appears to have some role in the fire starting. As many as 1,000 candles were left burning in the temple overnight, which fire investigators suspect spread to the rest of the temple, McWhorter said.

Three of the temple occupants were injured as they escaped the burning temple and were taken to a hospital, but their injuries were minor, such as smoke inhalation or scrapes, McWhorter said.

The monks escaped more serious injury by having working smoke detectors, McWhorter stressed, including a system that called their cellphones.

“Had it not been for the smoke detectors, I can’t imagine what would have happened,” McWhorter said.

Residents of the other two homes were left temporarily displaced. The occupants of the home with exterior damage will probably be able to return in a day or two, but residents of the other house will need to rebuild. A total of 16 people were displaced, McWhorter said.

TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Bay City News Service contributed to this report.


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