A massive column of smoke rose from the centre of Phnom Penh yesterday afternoon as the first major fire of the year consumed more than 30 houses and market stalls in the capital’s Russey Keo district.
Neth Vantha, director of the Phnom Penh Fire Department, said the fire totally destroyed 13 homes and 20 shops in Tuol Sangke commune, home to the Phsar Touch market area, but did not claim any casualties.
“The fire area was complicated for the fire trucks to get into, and we used 23 fire trucks to put out the fire,” Vantha said, adding that each fire truck was forced to refill three or four times. “This was the first huge fire this year so far.”
Some trucks had to drive through heavy traffic as far as six kilometres round-trip – to the northern end of Sothearos Boulevard and back – to refill their tanks, according to Twitter user Casey Nelson, who was having a coffee at the K-West hotel.
“I stopped at K-West, and two water trucks came up with their sirens blaring,” said Nelson, who asked that he be identified by his internet pseudonym. “The first one hooked up to the hydrant, took about five minutes, then did a u-turn and headed back up the riverfront.”
District governor Klaing Huot, who was at the scene, said that the cause of the fire, and the extent of the damage, was still unknown.
“We will question the victims to find out the cause of the fire,” he said, adding that authorities would provide emergency assistance to victims who lost their homes.
The scene at Phsar Touch was chaotic, with some residents trying to save belongings from their homes, and others shouting to fire fighters, asking them to turn the hoses on their homes before they, too, burst into flames.
The fire fighters, for their part, worked feverishly to contain the conflagration, which was fanned by strong winds.
Resident Nov Soy, 66, whose house was completely destroyed, told the Post the flames seemed to have emanated from a local rental house, before quickly spreading.
“I didn’t know what stuff to pick out [and take with me],” she said, adding that she had only had time to grab her purse before fleeing. “I will demand authorities find out the cause of the fire and will ask for compensation, as I have nothing left.”
According to Neth Vantha, there have been 47 fires in the capital this year, but yesterday’s was the largest yet.