Statues of deities survive temple fire; 3 dogs dead

A massive fire that broke out at the Sembawang God of Wealth Temple on Friday night killed three of the seven dogs that lived on the premises but left the statues of various deities intact.

A Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) spokesman told The Sunday Times yesterday that firefighters found the three dog carcasses during their night operation.

It took firefighters about three hours, from 9.15pm to midnight, to extinguish the flames. They continued to spray water for several hours to prevent the fire from rekindling, a process known as damping down.

The temple management clarified in a Facebook post yesterday that it had been caring for the seven stray dogs. “We do not chain up our dogs and they are free to roam the temple compound during the night.

“Unfortunately, we have lost three of them as they were trapped on the second level when the fire broke out. The remaining four managed to escape and are safe,” it added. The temple has four storeys.

Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung and Dr Lim Wee Kiak, both MPs for Sembawang GRC, visited the temple yesterday.

Mr Ong said in an Instagram post later that the damage to the temple was extensive but nobody was injured. The statues of all the deities were also “miraculously” intact, he added.

Dr Lim noted on Facebook that “what was really surprising was the five statues of the God of Wealth in the main prayer hall were relatively undamaged by the fire”. “Kudos to the 12 fire engines and 62 SCDF firefighters who put out the fire amid strong winds last night.”

The management said on Facebook that the temple will be closed until further notice. “Thankfully, our God of Wealth Hall and Goddess of Mercy Hall are still intact and we hope to reopen as soon as we can.”

The Taoist Federation is in talks with the temple management on how to render assistance, its chairman Tan Thiam Lye said.

He told Chinese-language daily Shin Min Daily News that the Sembawang God of Wealth temple started as a small temple and was painstakingly built up to its current size through years of fundraising.

According to the temple’s website, preparations to build the $3 million, 20,000 sq ft temple began as early as 1998. The construction itself began in 2004.

The temple is known for a 9.44m-tall statue of the God of Wealth on its rooftop, said to be the largest of its kind in the world.

Mr Tan added that he will call a meeting with members of the federation next week and urge them to be mindful of oil lamps and other flammable materials in their temples to prevent similar incidents.

Coincidentally, the temple’s former chairman, Mr Chee Tig Liang, died in his home yesterday morning.

Chinese-language evening daily Lianhe Wanbao quoted Mr Chew Hai Hoo, the temple’s current chairman, as saying that Mr Chee had retired as chairman two or three years ago and had been battling an unspecified illness at home since.

Rei Kurohi