Fire at ashram near La Fox under investigation

Authorities are investigating a fire that broke out late Thursday at a religious center in an unincorporated area near La Fox.

The small fire at the Mata Amritanandamayi Center Chicago, located at 41W501 Keslinger Road, started about 9:30 p.m. Thursday inside a washroom and janitor’s closet in the center’s administration building, according to Lt. Pat Gengler of the Kane County sheriff’s office.

It was contained there, and no injuries were reported. A cause of the fire is unknown at this time.

However, officials from the sheriff’s office and Elburn & Countryside Fire Protection District are being aided in their investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. It’s standard procedure to bring in the ATF, Gengler said, when a fire takes place at a religious institution.

The Thursday night fire and subsequent investigation comes at the same time as members of the center are getting ready for a five-day program with the expected visit of Hindu spiritual leader Mata Amritanandamayi — or Amma, as she is commonly known — herself.

The M.A. Center, also known as an ashram, sits on a 140-acre site that is the former location of the Broadview Academy boarding school, which closed in May 2007 due to declining enrollment and financial difficulties. The religious center moved into the facility this year.

This weekend’s events, expected to kick off Saturday, serve to “formally inaugurate” the center, according to the M.A. Center Chicago website.

Gengler said the program will go on as expected this weekend.

“Something that occurred this close to an event like this, it’s really pressing forward (the investigation) at this point,” Gengler said.

Amma, 58, of India, has been called “the hugging saint.” She is expected to greet attendees Saturday night with her signature hugging embrace, according to her website.

She’s embraced more than 33 million people around the world. Some hugging sessions have lasted as long as 20 hours.

  The Mata Amritanandamayi Center Chicago, located at 41W501 Keslinger Road near La Fox, recently opened on a 140-acre site formerly occupied by the Broadview Academy boarding school. A small fire broke out in the center’s administration building late Thursday. Brian Hill/
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