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Fire destroys dozens of homes

Residents help direct a hose toward smouldering buildings in the capital’s Meanchey district
Residents help direct a hose toward smouldering buildings in the capital’s Meanchey district yesterday. A fire gutted some 35 homes, and was believed to have started because of an electrical fault. Eli Meixler

Fire destroys dozens of homes

A slum fire in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district gutted some 35 homes yesterday, launching a frantic rescue effort and ultimately displacing scores of families, officials and aid workers said at the scene yesterday.

According to Net Vantha, director of the municipal fire police department, the blaze burned in Stung Meanchey commune from around 11:30am until 1:10pm, and consumed homes mostly constructed of wood resting on concrete foundations. There were no deaths or injuries.

“According to residents’ information, it was caused by an electrical fault, but we cannot make a conclusion because we are still investigating,” Vantha said, adding that it took 27 fire trucks, each filling up twice, to extinguish the fire.

Meanchey district governor Pich Keomony said yesterday that he had initially heard the fire started in a welding shop, but added that he too was still unsure of the actual cause.

Keomony said authorities are seeking unoccupied land nearby where the displaced residents can put up temporary shelter.

“Today I will go down to meet with them and bring them some materials, such as tents and rice. And the district has also reported it to the Cambodian Red Cross,” he said.

Though Vantha put the number of destroyed homes at about 35, Rith Theary, a staffer at Pour Un Sourire d’Enfant – the offices of which are a stone’s throw from the scene of the fire – said that the number could be even higher, given the haphazard construction of dwellings in the slum.

Of the houses that were destroyed, Theary said, some 90 per cent belonged to PSE staff and those to whom they offered vocational training.

“Some people are slightly injured, and our organisation is helping with some clothes and by letting them stay in the centre for a while,” he said.

One aid worker on the scene who asked not to be named said the neighbourhood was among Phnom Penh’s neediest and most vulnerable.

The attempts to put out the fire were at times chaotic, with onlookers scrambling to help firefighters by grabbing their own buckets and collecting runoff from fire engines to douse residual flare-ups. Some young men climbed on roofs to help firefighters stabilise hoses and spray the scorched area from above.

One of the victims, Pich Chenda, half of whose house was gutted in the fire, said she had no idea about the cause of the fire, and that she would move in with her brother for the time being.

According to Vantha, the fire police director, yesterday’s blaze was the 49th in Phnom Penh so far this year. These fires have caused three deaths and three injuries, as well as the destruction of seven motorbikes, six cars and 79 houses.


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