A pair of fires ripped through two Phnom Penh districts in less than 12 hours over Tuesday evening and early yesterday morning, completely destroying 24 houses.
According to Net Vuntha, Phnom Penh police deputy director in charge of fire and explosives, 15 of the destroyed houses were located near the railroad tracks in Tuol Kork district’s Boeung Kak I commune. The other nine dwellings were in Boeung Keng Kang II commune, Chamkarmorn district.
“The reasons behind the blazes have not been figured out yet, and the authorities are looking for them,” he said.
Pech Rady, who lost his home in the Boeung Kak blaze, said yesterday that authorities had told him and others that the fire started with an electrical malfunction, though rumours of arson were also circulating in the neighbourhood.
As the Kingdom enters dry season, the risk of fire increases, said Vuntha, who appealed to all people to be careful with dry waste and leaves in direct sunlight. He asked people to check their stoves, candles, incense and other flammable substances before they leave their homes.
The Ministry of Interior has recently created a department to publicise the importance of fire safety and provide training for any interested residents, according to Srey Kemheng, deputy director of weapon and fire management at the Interior Ministry.
“We will ask for policy from the ministry to reduce the fire accident in Phnom Penh city by 90 per cent in the next year,” Kemheng said.
However, only certain companies, restaurants, state institutions and NGOs have typically joined past fire training courses, he said, with ordinary citizens and small businesses such as vendors usually absent.
Paul Hurford, managing director of safety consultancy and equipment provider Azisafe, said this is a common problem. Residential fire safety seminars, while providing “good information”, routinely suffer from poor attendance. Many businesses also choose not to spend any extra money on fire safety.
“The majority of Cambodian residents don’t have adequate [fire] protection, I’d say,” he added.
According to the European Chamber of Commerce, many Cambodian buildings go up without adequate fire protection. Other buildings use a hodgepodge of standards from different countries, which can lead to incompatible equipment couplings that present a fire hazard.
Hurford said that, ideally, individuals should have fire extinguishers, fire blankets and smoke detectors. But while the associated costs might deter some, good training is available freely and people should take advantage of it, he said.
According to Vuntha, 116 fires have been recorded in the Kingdom since the start of the year, resulting in nine deaths, 11 injuries and lots of property damage.
Additional reporting by Igor Kossov