Woman arrested for fire that damaged Hanford's historical Taoist Temple Museum

Police say Maxine Montenegro was seen on video sitting on the museum steps smoking and setting clothing items on fire.
HANFORD, Calif. (KFSN) -- It's been over a month since the night in May when Arianne Wing sobbed as she watched Hanford's historical Taoist Temple Museum burn.

"I don't think since the fire, a day has gone by where I don't feel like this," she said.

Wing's family has owned businesses on historic China Alley since the 1800s. The temple has been the heart of the neighborhood for over a hundred years and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Hanford Police say they have the suspect responsible for the fire behind bars.

RELATED: Fire damages Hanford's historical Taoist Temple Museum

Investigators say 37-year-old Maxine Montenegro was charged with felony arson. She's a transient and was seen on surveillance video sitting on the museum steps smoking and setting clothing items on fire.

It took the department's homeless assistance team weeks to track her down for questioning.

"During the course of the interview, she confessed to starting the fire at the temple," says Hanford Police chief Parker Sever. "She is heavily involved in alcohol and drugs, and that probably played a factor."

For Wing, nothing can bring back the irreplaceable items inside.

"All of these plaques are completely gone," she said. "I just fell to my knees and I just collapsed because this woman took out a large part of our history."

But she says an arson arrest means she and the China Alley Preservation Society Board can move forward to bring the museum back to life.

"A lot of the stuff that was lost, we can not put a dollar figure on it," said Steve Banister, member of the China Alley Preservation Society Board. "Because they are irreplaceable and so we are just fortunate that some of it can be conserved."

The specialized conservation of items that date back to the 1800s will come at a cost, on top of the estimated half a million dollars in structural damage.

"They are determining what can be salvaged, what can be restored, what can be conserved and what is just firewood," said Banister.

Donations for the restoration and repairs at the museum are being accepted at ChinaAlley.com

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