Siem Reap town
A huge fire reportedly caused by an electrical fault destroyed 27 riverside stores in Siem Reap town on Wednesday night, the first day of the Water Festival, officials said yesterday.
Provincial police chief Sou San said the fire broke out about 7:30pm in a perfume store near Wat Por Lanka Market owned by 55-year-old Morm Bunna, but no one was injured.
“The fire was caused by an electric fault at the spirit house in Bunna’s store, then it spread to a gas container and exploded,” Sou San said.
It had taken the crews of four fire engines 20 minutes to control the blaze, he said.
“The fire burned along the river, spreading through the large trees as well as the victims’ stores, which contained things that burn easily such as clothes and shoes,” Sou San said.
Eyewitness Kim Son told the Post that the fire had spread rapidly.
“I heard her [Morm Bunna’s] shout for help, and then she was running out of her store with her grandchild,” he said.
“I tried to go inside, but the fire was out of control and started to spread to other stores.”
Vendor Sok Teang, whose crockery store was destroyed, said she had been unable to save any of her wares. “I lost everything,” she said.
Steel seller Kang Sok Lin said that when her daughter arrived, the fire had spread through almost her whole store. “[My daughter] rushed to reach the store, but unfortunately, everything was damaged,” she said.
Vendors told the Post they would go to the provincial hall today to request that a house be built for them on the riverside, because most had lived in their stores.
But residents affected by the blaze are among families set to be evicted from the area to make way for the expansion of the Siem Reap River, in order to protect the town from flooding and develop the riverside area.
Officials told the Post last month that roughly 600 families among more than 1,000 scheduled for relocation had already moved to a site in the province’s Sambour comm-une, about four kilometres from the town.
In the wake of the fire, rum-ours circulated that it had been deliberately lit to induce the remaining villagers to move, but these claims were dismissed by local officials.
“When I was at the scene at night, I heard some residents talking about rumours that someone started fires in the houses because of the eviction, but I want to say that it is really not true,” Siem Reap town governor Tep Bun Chhay said.
Some witnesses claimed that firefighters had not imm-ediately attempted to douse the flames when they arrived at the scene.
Nea Sang, director of the provincial fire department, said the location of the fire and electrical cables along the road had made it difficult for firefighters to work.
“The road is quite narrow and crowded, and it is difficult to drive when there are a lot of electrical wires,” he said.