VANCOUVER, Wash. - A Sikh temple and school that was under construction in Vancouver went up in flames early Friday morning and essentially burned to the ground.
Two workers who were inside the Guru Ram Das Church at Northeast 20th Street escaped the blaze, which began around 2:30 a.m. and moved fast throughout the entire building.
The workers were staying overnight at the church as a security measure and head contractor Leo Mikhailod said he woke up to popping sounds.
"And when I got out to try to figure out what the noise was, I open the door, I smell the smoke," he said. "I was yelling at the second person who was sleeping. I wake him up and I saw flames going through the bottom floor."
Mikhailod said he tried to run a water hose down to the bottom floor but the flames were just too intense for it to do any good.
Some firefighters said they've never seen a fire that strong, and one that spread as fast as it did. When crews arrived, they said they had no chance of saving the church.
The building used to house the Landover Athletic Club and was being remodeled as a church and school. Church members had spent years raising $500,000 to build the facility and hoped to have it open by December. Many church members who went to the scene of the fire were devastated by the loss.
A photo showing what the building looked like before the fire (courtesy of the Clark County Auditor).
Agents from the ATF, FBI, Vancouver Fire and Vancouver Police Department are all involved in the investigation. It is standard procedure for the ATF and FBI to look into a fire like this that involves a place of worship, and where the cause is unknown.
By Friday afternoon, the building was still too hot for firefighters to enter, even after crews had spent all day dousing the flames to try to cool it down.
Members of the temple believe the fire might have started in a downstairs bathroom but investigators have not confirmed that.
Vancouver Deputy Fire Marshall Chad Lawry said there have been some problems at the homes of neighbors near the church, including mail theft, break-ins and tire slashings, but nothing associated with the church itself.
Mikhailod said he was suspicious about the fire because it moved so fast.
"I would say in two minutes, the flames were all over the place," he said. "I mean it's dry weather, but it's really strange."
"We want to think that it is an accident - a really bad accident," said Pawneet Sethi, a spokesperson for the Sikh temple. "But if it turns out to be anything else, it's going to be a shock."
Temple members said they could not help but think about a shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in August.
There were people in the neighborhood who opposed the temple. They were worried about traffic and a lack of fire hydrants, according to The Columbian.