A fire that began in a Sihanoukville restaurant ripped through a number of neighbouring businesses yesterday morning in one of the tourism hub’s busiest streets, leaving guesthouses, bars and restaurants a smouldering wreck, eyewitnesses say.
Although no one was hurt, the blaze raged for two hours, and a water shortage in the area forced firefighters to scramble to replenish depleted hydrants.
Because most of the affected buildings were made of wood and had thatched roofs, the fire spread quickly, leaving almost nothing behind. Monkey Republic guesthouse and restaurant, where the fire is suspected to have begun, a dive shop and a laundromat were razed, while a nearby clothes shop and another guesthouse were severely damaged.
Provincial deputy police chief Chin Bunchea said firefighters arrived to find the six fire hydrants closest to the blaze completely dry.
“Because we are facing a water shortage, the Provincial Water Supply closed them,” Bunchea said.
“To fight the fire, we asked them to cut the water supply in some areas in order to allow the fire engines to take water [from the hydrants].”
It took 20 minutes for the water to come back on and by then the fire had already spread, he added.
Bunchea said: “At first, we were about to extinguish the fire at two shops, but the fire engines ran out of water and it was windy, so the fire spread.”
The cause of the fire is still being investigated.
When contacted, Prak Prakod, director of the provincial water supply authority (WSA), told the Post that the town’s water supply had been cut because the Boeung Prek Toub reservoir, which services Preah Sihanouk town, had run dry because of the heat.
Earlier on Saturday, the WSA had issued an announcement saying that the province was facing severe water shortages and that it would begin cutting water in various parts of the city.
But the water shortages could not have come at a more inopportune time.
Without water to fight the fire, business owners said the fire department had to run water trucks to and fro to put out the blaze.
“When the trucks got empty, they had to bring another one over,” said Nuria Zoco, who runs Zoco Clothes, one of the businesses affected by the fire. “Given the circumstances, they worked well to fight the fire.”
According to the fire department, a total of 14 trucks were used.
“You are talking to the luckiest business owner here,” Zoco said. “I think my shop survived the fire only because it was made of concrete.”
While Zoco’s shop received structural damage from the heat, the damage was nothing like what her neighbours faced.
“Monkey Republic, the dive shop and the laundry shop – they are all completely gone,” she said.
When contacted, staff at the Monkey Republic declined to comment but said they had asked all guests to report to The Big Easy, another guesthouse further up the road, where they would be staying.
Matthew Booth, who runs the Ocean Walk Inn farther down the road, says water shortages are commonplace this time of the year.
“In the last two days, it has been very bad. Yesterday, the water was off for maybe eight to 10 hours,” he said.
This was why most businesses have installed wells on their premises, he added.
“I think that’s one of the problems they have at the Monkey Republic; they don’t have a well, so when the fire started, they didn’t have water to put it out with,” he added.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KHOUTH SOPHAK CHAKRYA