Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Fire destroys Baekje-era Naejang Temple

Police and firefighters investigate the cause of fire on-scene at Naejang Temple in Jeongeup, North Jeolla Province, Wednesday. The main building in the temple was gutted by fire early Wednesday morning. Police presume the fire to have been caused by short circuit problems. / Yonhap

The main building of an ancient temple in the heart of Mt. Naejang, North Jeolla Province, burnt down Wednesday, apparently due to a fire caused by a short circuit.
Naejang Temple’s central building was completely destroyed due to the sudden fire that erupted inside it at around 2 a.m.

Buddhist paintings and a statue of Buddha were among the items destroyed in the blaze.

Police immediately dismissed any links to arson, saying that the fire occurred because of an electrical fault. They said a surveillance camera at the temple showed no intruders in the temple.

“We plan to investigate the exact cause of the fire together with the National Forensic Service,” said an officer.

The fire was first discovered by an employee of a security company, who contacted the security guard at the temple after being alerted by a fire detection system.

By the time firefighters got to the scene, there was almost nothing to salvage. Temple officials tried extinguishing the fire but only managed to prevent it from spreading to trees on the mountain.

Many expressed regret and sorrow for the loss of a national heritage famous for its location amid beautiful scenery. “The temple incident reminded me of the Sungnyemun fire incident. We need measures to protect our cultural assets,” said Kim Su-mee, a citizen.

Poor management of temple buildings and national heritages has been a recurrent problem. In 2008, the Sungnyemun or South Gate of Seoul was gutted by arson. Naksan Temple located in Yangyang, Gangwon Province was also destroyed by a forest fire in 2005.

Naejang Temple boasted of colorful scenery especially in the autumn.

The temple was re-constructed in 1938 after a series of repeated fires. It was first constructed in 636 A.D during the Baekje Kingdom but was destroyed in the Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592 and during the Korean War in 1950. The last time it was reconstructed was in 1958.

The building was vulnerable to fire because the entire building is made with wood.

Naejang Temple itself is not listed as a cultural asset designated by the government but possesses one ― the Joseon copper bell ― in an adjacent building. Important Buddhist assets such as a pagoda preserving the relics of Buddha are also located in front of the main building.

The main building will be rebuilt.

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