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A fireman listens to instructions on a radio yesterday as ruins smolder in Phnom Penh after a blaze destroyed 36 houses. Hong Menea

Capital battles blazes

A rash of fires ripped through the capital on Monday evening and yesterday, with the most devastating one destroying 36 houses across a packed slum next to the Monivong bridge in the southern district of Chbar Ampov.

The Chbar Ampov fire began to burn at about 11am yesterday, said Prom Yorn, head of the municipal fire brigade.

“We used more than 20 fire engines to put the fire out, which happened at around 1pm. We don’t know the reason behind the fire yet,” he said at the scene.

Local residents reported that one middle-aged man received light injuries to his back in the blaze and was sent to hospital.

The destroyed homes – mostly wooden shacks topped by corrugated metal roofs – were crammed tightly next to each other.

Local resident Kuy Ry, 47, said through tears that she had lost almost everything as she searched for lost jewellery in the charred ruins of her home.

“All I have left are the clothes I’m wearing,” she said.

Ry said she borrowed money to build the house and is still paying interest after it was completed nine months ago.

“No one could take their stuff out because we had already left home for work when we were called about the fire,” she said.

Ry’s husband, 56-year-old motodop Thai Lorn, said he didn’t know where they would sleep that night.

“I will buy something to cover myself and will think later about what I have to do. I can’t really think about this anymore now.”

Although authorities are still investigating the cause of the fire, residents already had some theories as to its origins.

People direct fire hoses and water from rooftops in Phnom Penh’s Chbar Ampov commune yesterday after a blaze broke out destroying 36 buildings.
People direct fire hoses and water from rooftops in Phnom Penh’s Chbar Ampov commune yesterday after a blaze broke out destroying 36 buildings. Hong Menea

Another woman whose house burned down, 25-year-old Keo Srey Pheon, said that she thought the fire may have started due to faulty electrical wiring in a local home.

“I don’t have any relatives to shelter me, because my seven siblings’ houses were also destroyed,” she said, adding that she would file a complaint demanding compensation if other victims attempted to do so.

While the fire in Chbar Ampov was the city’s most destructive, it was only one of at least four fires that flared up in a less-than-24-hour period.

In the second-most serious case, the Taiwanese-owned Xing High Feng garment factory in Sen Sok district burned down almost completely on Monday night, with authorities suspecting faulty wiring to be the cause.

Although no casualties were reported, the fire left the factory’s 320 workers out of fully-paid work for the next two months.

Chhorn Sokha, a labour specialist at the Cambodian Legal Education Community, said the workers had signed an agreement to be paid a total of $30 compensation over the next two months while the factory is rebuilt.

The workers are all expected to return to work as usual afterwards.

Another fire occurred on Monday evening at the UCB bank in Daun Penh district, although it was put out by authorities before any flames could be sighted. Authorities also suspected electricity issues.

A fourth fire was spotted at about 2pm yesterday at a construction site on Diamond Island, which was quickly put out after it started.

Workers said at the scene that the fire started after sparks from welders fell onto flammable materials nearby.

Despite the recent spate of fires, overall cases are down so far this year in Cambodia, according to Kong Sovanna, chief of the Interior Ministry’s Weapons and Explosive Management and Fire Control Office.

Sovanna said that there were 349 fires in the first six months of this year, a decline of 24 cases compared to the same period last year.

“Fourteen people were killed, 16 injured, 356 homes were destroyed and 534 stores in four markets were damaged [so far this year],” he said.

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heantl@hotmail.com's picture

The solution to this is to have the cooking area separated from the main house other than electrical connections in good condition.

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