Fire destroyed major sections of Pattaya tourist attraction Sukhawadee House on Wednesday, just as it was preparing to reopen from shutdowns forced by city hall and the coronavirus.
The blaze began before 10:30 a.m. in the ornate Buddhabaramee building, spreading along the carpeting to plush furniture, up the walls and across the ceiling. The building showcases invaluable Buddha figures and relics.
From there the fire spread to the 5,200-sq.-meter domed structure acclaimed for its wooden architecture and raced across the upper floors. Flames and intense heat caused catastrophic damage, including to the building’s superstructure.
Crews from 20 fire trucks battled the inferno for more than four hours as thick smoke poured from the ostentatious mansion and led Banglamung District Chief Amnart Charoensri to tell reporters he feared the main building would collapse, as firefighters were unable to quickly bring the inferno under control.
Six employees had been in the buildings at the time, but all escaped safely.
Staff members said Baan Sukhawadee was scheduled to open later today after being closed for four months, both from lockdown imposed during the coronavirus pandemic and by city hall for repeatedly violating building codes by encroaching on public land.
Power had been turned on when workers heard an explosion, after which flames roared through the wooden structure.
Damage to the property initially was estimated at 200 million baht with untold more to religious artifacts. It is insured for 2 billion baht.
The attraction was built in 2000 by Panya Chotitawan, the founder of poultry giant Saha Farms. Panya walked among the smoldering ruins of his prized mansion, shaking his head and refusing to speak to the media.
While Sukhawadee was planning to reopen, it was uncertain how long it would be allowed to stay that way. The center of legal disputes since 2016, large parts of the attraction were threatened with demolition by Pattaya City Hall, work that the fire has now done for local officials.
In 2018, Pattaya said more than 13 percent of the property was built on public land and must be demolished. While Panya originally promised to cooperate, the goodwill quickly was replaced by foot-dragging and legal appeals.
In April, after Sukhawadee had closed, Pattaya brought in bulldozers to demolish a Building B, a one-story, 1,400-sq.-meter, reinforced-concrete building encroaching on public land, and Building C, a 75-sq.-meter concrete shed and other fixtures around both structures.
In December, Pattaya cited two five-story concrete buildings being constructed that lie on waterfront land that, city officials say, Panya doesn’t own.
He added that Mayor Sonthaya Kunplome has made prosecuting Panya, a billionaire poultry baron, a priority, arguing that the law must be applied both rich and poor, regardless of social class.
Neighbors have hailed the crackdown as they have battled against the rich and powerful Saha Farms owner for years. In 2016, the complex was found to be flushing untreated sewage across neighboring Kratinglai Park and into the ocean.