Washington: An under-construction gurudwara, which was set to serve Portland metro area's largest Sikh community in the Washington state, was destroyed in a massive fire apparently caused by gas leak. The former athletic-club-turned-Sikh-gurdwara, valued at $213,000, burned to the ground on early Friday after the fire sparked just before 2:30 am local time at the 17,000 square-foot property in the east Vancouver Landover-Sharmel neighbourhood, 'The Columbian' reported.
The Guru Ramdass Sikh Community, the largest Sikh group in the Portland metro area with about 200 member families, had bought the building in 2008 and had nearly completed renovations. They planned to move from their small Rose Village gurdwara on O Street to the new building in December, the Sikh group's member Gurjit Singh was quoted as saying.
"It was devastating," group president Sarabjeet Teja said of the fire. "We've been working on this the last four years." The gurdwara stood in charred ruins as smoke filled the neighbourhood. Parts of debris of the building were spotted in yards hundreds of feet away.
The building is a total loss, said Vancouver Fire Department spokesman Captain Kevin Murray. According to county property records, it was valued at $213,000. Murray said the fire was reported by neighbours. When the first engine arrived seven minutes later, the entire building was engulfed in flames, he said.
"The captain on Engine 10 said it was the largest fire he had ever seen and he's a 25-year veteran," Murray said. Two men, believed to be construction contractors, were staying in the building. They were awakened by the fire and escaped without injury, Murray said.
No one was reported inside and the building was unsafe to enter, Murray said, so firefighters used defensive tactics to prevent the fire from spreading. The FBI and US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were on the scene and will investigate the fire along with the city fire marshal, the report said.
Although it is unclear what caused the fire, Deputy Fire Marshal Chad Lawry told KOIN-TV a natural gas line may have fueled the flames. Initially neighbours had opposed the construction work, but in 2009, a hearings examiner ruled in favour of it. Teja said the group has not had any issues with neighbours recently.
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