Woman identified in connection to Taoist Temple fire: ‘She really wiped out a whole chunk of history’

Crime

HANFORD, Calif. (KSEE) – According to the Hanford Police Department, felony charges of arson have been submitted to the Kings County District Attorney’s Office after surveillance video showed 37-year-old Maxine Montenegro sitting on the front steps of the Taoist Temple setting items of clothing on fire.

The fire that followed in May destroyed artifacts described as “irreplaceable.”

“We have surveillance cameras, so we were pretty much sure we knew what had happened,” said Arianne Wing, the president of the China Alley Preservation Society. “It’s hard for me to find words to describe the devastation, she really wiped out a whole chunk of history and we can’t really get it back.”

Before and after photos were taken by photographer Evelyn Hang Yin and show the devastation that the fire caused inside the Taoist Temple.

“The centerpiece for the Chinese community,” is how Wing describes the temple’s meaning for Hanford’s China Alley. Wing said people all over the world would go to take a tour.

“It was like a time capsule and there was so much color. And now, everything is black,” said Steve Baniser, Wing’s husband and who’s on the board of the China Alley Preservation Society.

Many artifacts are not replaceable, but Wing and Banister say things like documents that record the history of China Alley were saved. And Banister said conservators say more items can be conserved.

“The stuff that was right near the stairwell is gone but the rest of the stuff we thought was gone too but she says that they can be conserved,” Banister said.

“I’m confident we’ll be fine. We’re going to move forward and be fine,” Wing said.

They have a link to help with donations that they say will go toward their restoration efforts. That link can be found here.

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