It’s unclear whether a local landmark can be salvaged following a fire overnight Thursday. Someone walking by the temple at Yashodhara Ashram on Kootenay Lake’s East Shore noticed smoke coming from its domed roof at about 6:30 p.m.
No one was inside at the time. The ashram’s own emergency response team got hoses out and start cooling down the flames until firefighters from the Riondel and Balfour-Harrop volunteer departments arrived, along with paramedics from Riondel.
They worked throughout the night, finally extinguishing the fire after about 12 hours.
Swami Lalitananda, who teaches at the ashram, said even though the temple is still standing, it suffered major damage. “We don’t know exactly how extensive it is,” she said. “The walls are still standing. The shape of the building is still there, but there’s a lot of fragile structure.”
At a minimum, the roof’s frame and arches will have to be taken down.
Although the cause is unknown, she suspects some kind of spark is to blame. It was difficult for firefighters to get water on the flames, she added. “The problem was that the fire itself was between two kinds of fire prevention layers — an outer roof and an inner stucco ceiling. The flames were trapped between two impermeable coverings and there was a lot of fuel from the insulation and tarpaper inside. They had to axe holes into the roof.”
Crews contained the blaze so that it didn’t spread to other buildings. The ashram is still open and functioning as usual. However, Swami Lalitananda said the temple is the “heart of the ashram” where nightly devotional services were held.
The temple has windows and doors on each side, “symbolizing different ways to enter the sacred in ourselves through different religions or paths. It’s very ecumenical. That ideal of people coming together in unity is what the temple was.”
Known as the temple of light, it was built in 1992 based on the long-held vision of the ashram’s founder, the late Swami Sivananda Radha.
“She called it her little dream,” Swami Lalitananda said. “Ever since she was a teenager, she saw this vision of this particular shape of building overlooking water with big trees in front and this round, eight-sided dome with arches rising up to a centre point and a skylight. She felt she had to manifest that vision.”
The ashram, a yoga retreat and study center, was founded on Walker’s Landing Road in Kootenay Bay in 1963. The temple’s foundation was laid two years later, but it took until the late 1980s for work to begin.
Swami Lalitananda said the fire was “shocking for us” and came less than a week after hundreds of people packed the temple, including including musicians from India. She expressed their “deep gratitude” to firefighters.
(CORRECTION: An earlier version of the story erroneously stated that the ashram is on Crawford Creek Road.)