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Fire Destroys Mituo Village Dormitory
Written by Larry Roeder, Editor

Damage Estimate over $1 million



A lone firefighter extinguiishes hot spots after fire destroyed the Mituo Village Dormatory.

           A devastating fire caused more than $1 million in damage to the Mituo Village Cultivation Center in Hereford Township Saturday morning.  The 6,000 square-foot dormitory section of the structure, located in the 300 block of Conrad Road in Hereford Township, was completely destroyed.

            Shortly after 10 a.m., the Berks County 911 Center began receiving multiple calls reporting the fire.  Firefighters from Seisholtzville, Hereford, Eastern Berks, and Topton fire companies were dispatched at 10:12 a.m.  While responding to the call, Seisholtzville Fire Company Chief Ray Strickland reported that heavy smoke could be seen from three miles away.

            Hereford Fire Company Chief Josh Borowski, the first officer to arrive on the scene, requested a second alarm, and later, a third alarm bringing in additional fire companies and emergency responders.

            A steady rain hampered firefighters' efforts but kept the fire from extending to nearby woods and fields.

            The large building complex houses a temple as well as the fire-ravaged two-story dormitory section.  The dormitory was empty at the time of the fire but the temple was occupied.

            Volunteer firefighters quickly responded but flames had already broken through the roof and were shooting 40-feet into the morning sky when they arrived.  A breezeway between the buildings helped to keep the fire from spreading from the dormitory to the temple.

            All of the people who were in the temple portion of the complex when the fire started were evacuated when firefighters arrived.

            The rural, hilltop location of the fire is surrounded by trees and open fields.  Firefighters needed to shuttle water from a pond on Benfield Road, about two miles away, into the scene using fire company tanker trucks. An estimated 60,000 gallons of water were used.  According to Borowski "the water supply went very smoothly."

            About 100 volunteers responded to the fire.  Both Strickland and Borowski said "everyone worked well together."

            The cause of the fire was investigated by State Police Fire Marshal Corey Heimbach.  He reported that the fire was determined to be accidental and that the origin of the fire was outside the dormitory and caused by fireplace debris.

            One Topton firefighter sustained a minor injury and was transported to the hospital and released Sunday.  No civilians were injured.

             It took about an hour to bring the fire under control, but firefighters remained on the scene for about eight hours to extinguish a mounting pile of burning debris.  Because of the extent of damage and the size of the burning rubble left by the fire, the volunteers requested construction equipment to help separate and remove it and allow it to be fully extinguished.  Bryan Lambert, of BHL Company, provided an excavator to assist the firefighters.

            The structure is the former site of the Camp Mensch Mill Retreat and Conference Center which hosted summer youth camps, workshops, and retreats for 84 years.  The property was originally purchased by the Eastern Pennsylvania Synod of the Reformed Church in 1924 and expanded in 1947.  The Conference Center was built on additional land purchased in 2004.

            The camp was closed in January of 2013.  It was purchased by the Amitabha Buddhist Society of Philadelphia in 2014 and named Mituo Village.  Since then, the property has served as the organizational headquarters for the organization.

            According to a report given at the Hereford Township board of supervisors meeting earlier this week, the building was not insured.

            Berks County fire companies assisting at the scene included Boyertown, Earl Township, Fleetwood, Lyons, and Ruscombmanor.  Lehigh County fire companies assisting at the scene included Alburtis, Lower Milford, Macungie, and Upper Milford.  From Montgomery County, units from East Greenville assisted at the scene and units from Red Hill Fire Company were on standby at Seisholtzville's firehouse.

            Emergency medical service units from Bally, Gilbertsville, Macungie, Topton, and Upper Perkiomen, as well as canteen units from North Penn Goodwill also responded.

            Conrad Road was reopened and firefighters cleared the scene around 6 p.m.








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