“Fire Destroys Samoa Temple,” Ensign, Sept. 2003, 74–75
On 9 July 2003 the Apia Samoa Temple was destroyed by fire, less than one month before the temple’s 20th anniversary was to be celebrated.
“A lot of tears were shed,” says Iamafana Lameta, a translator who works at the Church’s regional offices in Samoa and a witness to the fire. “It’s just like a part of our lives has been taken away.”
The fire started around 7 P.M. in the temple’s southwest corner near the sealing rooms and celestial room, then quickly engulfed the roof while spreading in a U shape, says Richard Chadderton, LDS service center manager in Samoa. The temple had been closed for remodeling, so no patrons were in the temple at the time of the fire, and no one was injured.
At press time the cause of the blaze had not been determined. However, initial reports indicate it may have been related to the construction project. The building was being renovated and expanded to add administrative offices and 12 large oxen statues to support the temple’s baptismal font. The temple was scheduled to be rededicated in October.
Brother Lameta and more than 100 volunteers were on hand to help the firefighters douse the blaze. Prior to the arrival of fire trucks, at least 20 members attempted to put out the flames with hoses and buckets of water. Airport Authority firefighters from Faleolo International Airport were called in to help due to the size of the blaze.
Brother Chadderton and others estimate that the structure is unsalvageable. “We have to believe in Heavenly Father and carry on,” says Brother Chadderton.
Despite concern that the fire would spread to surrounding buildings in the Church complex, no other buildings sustained damage. Temple president Daniel Betham reported that it began to rain quite heavily about 30 minutes after the fire began, and that likely preserved the other structures, he said. The adjacent buildings include a meetinghouse, a family history center, temple patron housing, a service center, the mission home, and the Church’s College of Western Samoa.
“We could feel the heat and sparks go all over the place, and all of a sudden it rained. We thought it was a miracle,” said President Betham, who has served in the temple presidency for 11 years.
Members have also looked to the smoke-stained angel Moroni as another symbol of hope amidst the devastation. The statue held its place atop the charred frame of the temple and did not fall.
“Their hope is not gone, because the angel Moroni is still there,” said Sister Olivia King, who along with her husband, Jerry, directs public affairs for the Pacific Islands Area.
The Church received an outpouring of support and sympathy from the community. Local companies and residents immediately offered assistance and prayers, Brother Chadderton says.
Several days after the fire, the First Presidency announced that the temple will be rebuilt. Plans for reconstruction will follow the design of recent temples. It will be more than 16,000 square feet and will include a fire-prevention sprinkling system required by current building codes.
Besides the original Nauvoo Temple, which was partially destroyed by fire in 1848, the Apia Samoa Temple is the only temple to be damaged this extensively by fire, says Coke Newell of Church Public Affairs.
Temple patrons who typically attend the Samoa temple will have to travel to the Nuka’alofa Tonga Temple, which is 800 miles away, until the temple is rebuilt. Members had already been traveling to other temples while the Samoa temple was being renovated.
Located on a 1.7-acre site, the Apia Samoa Temple was completed in 1983 and dedicated by President Gordon B. Hinckley. The temple district includes 74,500 members of the Church in 16 stakes and one mission. Currently, 29 percent of Western Samoans are members of the Church, one of the largest percentages of Church membership within a country.