Fire at Hanford’s Taoist Temple causes significant damage

Courtesy/Gary Feinstein

The Hanford Fire Department and Kings County Fire Department responded to a fire at Hanford’s China Alley Wednesday night, May 12, around 10:30.

Security cameras caught the start of the fire at the Taoist Temple and recorded the event until they melted. The fire started at the temple’s main door which is wood with a metal covering and continued down the wooden staircase destroying them.

All of the artifacts inside the temple either sustained significant smoke or soot damage or were completely gone.

Steve Banister and Arianne Wing, owners of the temple and members of the China Alley Preservation Society were the first to be let inside. Though no other building was damaged, much of the inside of the temple was destroyed. Banister said that a side window blew out supplying oxygen to the flames causing further damage.

Wing said they had insurance but, “one can’t put a price on many of the artifacts lost. Like most things in a museum, they’re priceless.”

Hanford’s China Alley dates from 1877 and consists of 11 historic buildings.

The Taoist Temple was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 and China Alley was listed as one of the eleven most endangered historic places in the United States by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Banister said that coincidentally he recently gave the Hanford Fire Department a tour of the temple so they would be familiar with the building in the event of the fire. Because of the tour, and their awareness of the building’s historical significance, water damage was held to a minimum. The fire department used a misting technique that saved many of the artifacts and documents.

Also because of misting techniques the basement received minimal damage. Wing said that the basement contained some artifacts but mostly old historical documents.

The fire department stayed at the temple all night putting out hot spots until 8 a.m. Thursday, said Wing.

Banister and Wing were allowed inside the basement Thursday morning and the fire department helped them remove the documents outside to dry. Banister said they will be utilizing a dehumidifier to dry out the basement.

The main stairs leading to the temple were destroyed, so the fire department escorted Wing and Banister to the Temple through a back staircase accessible through the garden. Wing fell to her knees in despair on seeing the damage to the temple.

“No one can prepare you for something like that,” said Wing.

The Imperial Dynasty Restaurant next door to the temple was not damaged.

A conservationist specializing in Asian artifacts is expected to arrive in the next few days to assess the damage. Because smoke and soot damage is corrosive to the historic artifacts, time is of the essence in starting restoration work.

A representative of the Hong Kong Museum of History arrived the day after the fire to help go through the artifacts. Arrangements had been made for the museum to borrow some of the Temple’s artifacts, which have now been suspended. Because of Hanford China Alley’s significance to Chinese history in the United States, the Hong Kong museum had taken measurements in years past of the Taoist Temple in order to create a replica.

The Hanford Fire Department and the Hanford Police Department are collaborating on their investigation into the causes of the fire. As of this time, no cause has been reported.

“We are tremendously grateful to the Kings County Fire Department, the Hanford Fire Department and the police department for all their efforts and help,” said Wing.

China Alley Preservation Society was established to preserve the buildings and Hanford’s Chinese heritage. The focus before the fire had been to convert a vacant lot into a Chinese Garden and address the structural needs of four of the buildings. Now all donations will be directed to restoration.

Wing and Banister had fire insurance, but that won’t pay for the specialized restoration needed for the artifacts. China Alley is a nonprofit and donations can be made at https://www.chinaalley.com

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