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What You Need To Know About The Fire That Broke Out At Kek Lok Si Temple

One of the temple's trustees said that reports stating that 70% of the entire temple complex was burnt is inaccurate.

Cover image via Omnivagant & Pasukan Bomba Sukarela Bukit Bendera Air Itam (Facebook)

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In the wee hours of Tuesday, 12 October, a fire broke out in a building at Kek Lok Si Temple, Penang — a popular tourist attraction touted to be the largest Buddhist temple complex in Malaysia

Malaysians woke up to news that "70%" of one of the buildings was damaged.

Photos of the fire at the pilgrimage centre went viral on social media, causing many Malaysians to worry about the heritage site with more than a hundred years of history.

However, people from the temple have said that the condition is not as bleak as reported by some media.

To get you up to speed, here are five things you need to know about the fire at the 130-year-old temple:

1. Only 1% of all Kek Lok Si buildings were damaged

According to Sin Chew Daily, a master at the temple said the fire broke out at a reception room for distinguished guests.

The master — surnamed Zhang (transliteration) — said the fire burnt down a statue of Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy.

He told the Chinese daily yesterday that only 1% of all buildings at Kek Lok Si were burnt, adding that the fire was very small.

Zhang emphasised that the fire did not affect the daily operation of Kek Lok Si Temple, so much so that the temple is still open to pilgrims and tourists as usual.

Meanwhile, Free Malaysia Today quoted one of the temple's trustees, Steven Ooi, as saying that media reports stating 70% of the temple complex was burnt is inaccurate.

"We would like to tell everyone that the whole temple is practically intact. We've been flooded with calls asking if the whole temple site has been damaged. It has not," Ooi told the online portal.

"News reports claiming that 70% of the entire temple complex has been razed is not true."

2. After being woken up by the fire, Master Zhang and the temple's staff tried to put out the fire

Image via Sin Chew Daily

According to Zhang, the fire started at about 2am on Tuesday, reported Sin Chew Daily.

After the fire woke him up, he assisted the temple's staff in putting out the fire.

The master related that the firefighters arrived when he and the staff were almost done with extinguishing the flame.

He and the staff then let the firefighters finish the job. Bernama reported that three fire engines and over 50 firefighters — including those from Jalan Perak Fire and Rescue Station (BBP) and the voluntary fire force — were deployed to the scene.

The firefighters received a stress call at 2.56am and it took them one hour to bring the fire under control.

The national news agency reported Penang Fire and Rescue Department (Penang JBPM) operations officer Muhamad Norhisham Ibrahim as saying that over 70% of the 18.5sqm temple was damaged.

However, a few local media did not report the size of the temple that was burnt other than mentioning that 70% of the building was damaged. Many reports did not mention which building was affected.

18.5sqm is about 22% the size of a badminton court. Kek Lok Si Temple sits on a plot of 120,000sqm land. Aerial photos of the temple show that there are more than a dozen buildings of various sizes at the hilltop attraction in Air Itam.

The temple complex is famous for many things, such as a pagoda with 10,000 alabaster and bronze statues of Buddha and a 100ft-tall statue of Guanyin housed under an intricate shelter.

3. The fire was likely caused by rats

Both Zhang and Ooi said that rodents are suspected to be the culprits behind the fire.

Zhang said rats were believed to have overturned the oil lamps in the building and caused the fire, reported Sin Chew Daily.

Image via Nanyang Daily

Free Malaysia Today also quoted Ooi saying the same, adding that the oil lamps were placed in front of a Guanyin statue.

Ooi said that, fortunately, the building affected by the fire was quite far from the prayer hall next door that housed the three seated Buddhas. He stressed that the larger temple complex, the pagoda, and other structures were safe and undamaged.

4. Oil lamps were moved from one of the main halls at Kek Lok Si Temple to be temporarily stored in the reception room

Image via Omnivagant

Sin Chew Daily reported that oil lamps had to be moved to a different location from one of the main praying halls at Kek Lok Si Temple because of a termite problem.

The reception room for distinguished guests was chosen to temporarily store the oil lamps. The staff did not expect the move would cause a fire.

No injuries or deaths were reported in the accident, reported The Star.

5. Kek Lok Si Temple will not need the state government's help to fund its restoration

Left to right: Komtar state assemblyperson Teh Lai Heng, Master Zhang, and Air Itam state assemblyperson Joseph Ng Soon Siang.

Image via Sin Chew Daily

In a report published by China Press yesterday, 12 October, Air Itam state assemblyperson Joseph Ng Soon Siang said employees of Kek Lok Si were cleaning up the aftermath, and it was believed that the place could be cleaned up by afternoon.

Speaking about the damage, Ng said, "The fire has little impact. Kek Lok Si believes that it can handle it by itself and does not need to help the state government."

The assemblyman clarified that the incident was not a serious fire.

Check out these old photos of the 130-year-old Kek Lok Si Temple: